Action needed to curb Adderall use among college students

Having a high GPA is becoming more important for college students because grades directly affect their future career prospects. Many college students will do anything to achieve the highest GPAs they can. One option that college students choose to boost their concentration and stay up all night is a “study drug” known as Adderall.

Adderall is a medication used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is one of the most common prescription stimulants used by college students for nonmedical purposes. More than half of nonmedical users ages 12 or older received prescription drugs from their friends for free. In addition, about 62 percent of college students with ADHD reported giving away their prescription drugs.

In fall 2013, there were 51,526 college students enrolled at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. According to Boynton Health Service’s 2013 College Student Health Survey, 5 percent of the students were diagnosed with ADHD. Assuming that the number of such college students remains steady and that they were all prescribed Adderall, there could be as many as 2,576  students who are carrying Adderall and are possibly passing it to their friends.

Given competition in the college setting, students have high academic expectations. Moreover, many college students mistakenly believe that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs because they are legal. Therefore, some of them turn to Adderall as a study aid, expecting that it will improve their focus and academic performance. However, a recent study by Amelia Arria, director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development, and others showed that non-prescribed college student users are more likely to have lower GPAs than other groups.

Additionally, college students who are nonmedical Adderall users are more likely to establish high risk and unhealthy behaviors. Ninety percent of those who used Adderall nonmedically in the past year were binge drinkers, and more than 50 percent were heavy alcohol drinkers.

These students were five times more likely to be nonmedical users of prescription pain killers.

The potential adverse effects of Adderall are heart attack and sudden cardiac death. Even though these consequences are rare, their rates of occurrence increase when alcohol is used concurrently. Studies have shown that heart attacks can afflict users in their early 20s.

In 2012, the Minnesota Department of Health Services developed the Minnesota State Substance Abuse Strategy to address nonmedical use of prescription drugs in Minnesota. The strategy was to train physicians about prescription opiates and heroin abuse and to increase participation by prescribers in the Prescription Monitoring Program.

However, the strategy does not specifically address college students in the Twin Cities, nor is Adderall a focus. In addition, implementing this strategy in the target population will not solve the problem because it does not challenge the misconception about the harm of using prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons.

One potential option that could resolve nonmedical use of Adderall among college students is promoting a change in attitude toward the drug. Many college students who are nonmedical users of Adderall think that Adderall is harmless. Thus, interventions should be implemented in educational institutions to help students realize the risks of using drugs without prescriptions.

Moreover, the campaigns would need to help college students who legally receive Adderall from health care providers understand that Adderall is a controlled substance. Passing the medication to someone else is illegal.

Also, students need to realize the importance of using Adderall as directed for their own health.

Nonmedical use of Adderall among college students in the Twin Cities is a problem and needs to be addressed in the near future. Policymakers should be aware of this problem and collaborate with college administrators in developing educational policies in the near future.