Students pop pills to stay up

By Cassie Tomlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, December 8, 2004

During the final weeks of the semester when students struggle with work overloads, some students say they will employ the help of prescription ADHD medications to help them stay awake studying.

One of the most common attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder medications is Adderall, which contains amphetamines.

Hal Crawford, Campus Health Services psychiatrist, said when used correctly, Adderall aids a person in calming down and focusing, but for someone who doesn't need it, it has the effect of several cups of extra-strong coffee.

Crawford said he prescribes the drug to students who have been diagnosed with ADHD. To be diagnosed, one must undergo a battery of tests by a doctor off campus and be diagnosed with the disorder, he said.

Crawford said with a prescription for the drug comes a recommendation to exercise caution with it.

"It is a controlled substance, and it's against the law to take it without a prescription or provide it to someone without one," he said.

Crawford said he has not dealt first-hand with Adderall abuse, but has heard indirect reports.

Business freshman Kristine Flanigan said she often hears of Adderall abuse by students, especially in residence halls.

Flanigan, an Arizona-Sonora resident, said she knows of students who buy the drug in Mexico and bring it back to Tucson.

"You don't need a prescription, so kids buy them there for really cheap and come sell them in the dorms for a lot more," she said.

Undeclared freshman Melissa Hausner said she is prescribed Adderall for attention-deficit disorder and understands why students without the disorder would take the drug.

She said although she knows students who sell the drug, she has only given the pills to her close friends.

"Just because you don't have ADD doesn't mean it can't help you focus," she said. "I don't think taking a pill to help you study for a test should be considered abuse."

Crawford said the dangers of using the drug without a prescription include increased blood pressure, which can lead to stroke, and heart arrhythmia, which is potentially fatal. It can also offset a manic episode in a person who is emotionally on edge or prone to depression.

In addition, staying awake for several days, which is a common effect when abusing the drug, can cause auditory and visual hallucinations, he said.

Crawford said although Adderall pills help people stay awake to study, the results are not always satisfactory.

"I've seen studies showing that students who use that technique end up with worse grades," he said. "They just end up staring at the test in front of them."

Katelyn Wanttaja, an undeclared freshman, said she has taken Adderall about four times, including the day she took the SATs.

"I didn't take it to stay awake, but I woke up early and took it so I could concentrate all day and then sleep at night," she said.

Wanttaja, a Coronado resident, said she has not taken the drug in the residence hall, but acquiring it there would be "very easy."

Coronado residents Sarah Hauser, a psychology freshman, and Jaymie Foreman, an undeclared freshman, have never used the drug, but agree about its availability in the residence hall.

"If we wanted some Adderall at any time, we could go in and someone would give it to us," said Foreman.

Coronado Hall Director Tricia Smith declined to comment.

Liz Zavodsky, Arizona-Sonora Residence Hall Director, said she is aware of ADHD medication misuse in the residence hall, but does not believe the hall setting facilitates the distribution of the drug.

"I don't necessarily think living in the dorms has anything to do with it," she said. "Our policies regarding drugs hold the students accountable that sharing it is illegal."

According to the Residence Hall License Agreement, a resident may be evicted for use or distribution of an illegal drug.

David Wietecha, Residence Life coordinator for judicial affairs, said he does not track eviction cases based on specific offenses and said he has never heard of students abusing ADHD medication.

Residence Life director Jim Van Arsdel said he remembers one instance of ADHD medication abuse in the residence halls earlier this year, but could not provide the location or result of the incident.