Letter: Response to ‘study drugs are not the answer’

I am writing in response to Uma Venkata’s column “Study drugs are not the answer” published on April 26.

According to the latest College Student Health Survey from Boynton Health, more than 5 percent of University of Minnesota students are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and presumably have discussed or been prescribed medication for their symptoms. Additionally, around 21 percent of students report being diagnosed with depression, and while stimulants like Adderall are not the first-line prescription, they are used in some of these cases. 

This does not mean only 5 percent (or slightly higher) of students at the University have symptoms that could be helped with ADD or ADHD medication. To fill a prescription at Boynton, students must submit a comprehensive evaluation, which takes 4-8 hours and costs between $1,400 and $2,500. That’s quite the expense, especially because insurance typically does not cover it. The headline article of the Daily’s April 26 issue detailed the extreme difficulties of the University’s low income students; if you think Samantha Truesdell was worried about covering a $500 rent fee, imagine the stress of covering five times that amount.

In addition to financial barriers, many students face social stigma against seeking mental health resources. Some students believe their peers pop study drugs to cram through hangovers after weekday Netflix and partying. Many undiagnosed students face pressure not just to pass, but to get A’s in every subject. That’s expecting a near perfect score on every test, homework assignment and lab. 

Now, are there students who abuse prescription drugs for the purpose of more party time and who don’t care about grades? Sure. And it’s dangerous: taking Adderall without ADHD can result in a variety of effects, including headaches, shortness of breath and in extreme cases, death. Some studies have shown Adderall does not improve cognitive function for these individuals anyway. But to say every case of study drug abuse is due to students not acknowledging the privilege of being here is just wrong.

Even if you do view pills as a slacker’s tool, it’s not like caffeine isn’t also a drug. You can be addicted to or dependent on it. And by the way, it’s what makes up one third of NeurOwl capsules (the rest is L-Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea). And energy drinks? These can also produce symptoms of headaches, rapid heart rate and seizures, which resulted in over 20,000 emergency department visits in 2011. Energy drink consumption also correlated with illicit substance use for a total of more than 1.3 million emergency department visits in 2011, just like non-medical use of Adderall. 

In summary, taking medication (illegally or legally) is not what makes or breaks your college experience. Being privileged enough to be able to spend many hours studying and visiting office hours without medication (instead of dealing with financial, familial or other health constraints) is great. While all students should learn to manage time, it’s no guarantee of a perfect life or perfect relationship.

This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Sidonia Zinky is a junior at the University of Minnesota majoring in statistical science.