US/World

NY Senator Schumer Wants Colleges To End 'Academic Doping'; Up To 35% Of College Students Use ADHD Meds

Drugs
Senator Schumer is calling on colleges and universities to prevent the rise of "academic doping." Harvard University

With increasing competition to get into college and even fiercer competition once in college, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug abuse is on the rise in so called "academic doping." Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York, has called on colleges in the state to regulate student access to drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin, medications which are often abused by students to help them study and cram for tests. Currently, they are only approved for use by patients with ADD and ADHD.

Many don't realize that Adderall is an amphetamine, holding a chemical structure similar to another more notorious amphetamine called methamphetamine (meth), and is also a Schedule II controlled substance. Abuse of ADHD drugs by students who don't medically need them can lead to side effects such as depression, anxiety, and in some cases psychosis. "This is a matter of student health, safety, and academic integrity, and we need to look at all the options when it comes to keeping potentially addictive stimulants out of the hands of our students who don't really need them," Schumer said in a statement.

Senator Schumer has called on colleges to require students to have an evaluation from a campus health clinic before they are prescribed ADHD medications. This includes contracts that students must sign, requiring them to follow up with medical staff and provide detailed medical, educational, and psychological history.

If students want to fill prescriptions outside of a school health clinic, they need to have a mental health evaluation from a health care professional to verify the diagnosis of ADHD. Parents will also be required to verify that the student does, indeed, have issues with attention.

"When used properly to treat a legitimately diagnosed attention disorder, drugs like Adderall and Ritalin can help students focus and learn, but all too often these cases are the minority on college campuses," Schumer said. "Plain and simple: using Adderall as a study drug is academic doping."

To have a better-rounded plan to reduce reliance on these medications, Senator Schumer proposed that colleges and universities offer a host of programs to help students deal with the stresses in their academic careers. These programs would include counseling, workshops on time management and procrastination, and classes during orientation on the risks of stimulant abuse and the addictive nature of these medications.

The problems with Adderall abuse go beyond the classroom. According to Senator Schumer and a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, close to 90 percent of full-time college students who had used Adderall nonmedically in the past year also were binge drinkers and more than half were also heavy alcohol abusers. The students who used Adderall and did not have ADHD were more likely to have used illicit drugs than non-Adderall using students. Students that abused Adderall were also almost three times more likely to use marijuana, eight times more likely to use cocaine, eight times more likely to use tranquilizers recreationally and five times more likely to use pain relievers recreationally.

Although these medications help students to be more competitive, they are habit-forming and can severely offset the brain chemistry in young adults if they do not have ADD or ADHD. Abuse of prescription medications in the United States is rampant, and while there has been a decrease in illegal drug use, legal prescription drug abuse is soaring.

Statistics
Statistics from the White House on prescription induced deaths

The White House has enacted the 2011 Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan, which further expands on the government's National Drug Control Strategy. This plan includes better education on the risks of prescription drug abuse, monitoring prescriptions so that patients don't go "doctor shopping" to find one that will prescribe, controlling the disposal of unused medications and enforcing the law to prevent "pill mills."

This legislation was enacted given that prescription drug abuse in adults causes more deaths than illegal drug abuse yearly. Prescription-induced deaths outnumber those from suicides, gunshot deaths, and homicides in the U.S. And although Adderall, Ritalin, and other ADHD medications are not usually associated with early death, they can be gateway drugs to further abuse of prescription drugs years down the line.

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