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Study Drugs - Use of These Dangerous New Drugs is Skyrocketing Among the A+ Student Crowd

There's a new class of drug users at colleges, universities, and even high schools around the country, but they may be difficult to detect.

That's because, unlike the stereotype, the kids using so-called "study drugs" are often "A" students and are determined to do well in school. So determined, in fact, that they're using hard-core prescription drugs to help them study longer and better.

Two of the most commonly used study drugs are Ritalin and Adderall, drugs normally prescribed to kids with attention deficit disorder (ADD).

In kids with ADD, these drugs can be effective in helping them to calm down, but in kids without the condition, the drugs have the opposite effect, stimulating the central nervous system and acting a lot like speed.

Rather than giving in to fatigue, many college students are opting to take "study drugs" that allow them to study all night long.

Dr. Eric Heiligenstein, head of psychiatry for the University of Wisconsin health services, calls the study drugs, " ... Performance-enhancing drugs, almost like academic steroids."

"People find this drug enticing because they can get their academic work done quicker or do more in a shorter period of time. So for students who have put off work or are not very strong academically, we find some are using it to kind of counteract or remedy their problems," he said.

To get an idea of just how widespread the use of these drugs has become, of about 100 students at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, five have prescriptions for Ritalin or a similar drug, about 50 have used them, and around 30 use them regularly.

And, says Derryck Smith, head of the department of psychiatry and psychiatrist-in-chief at British Columbia's Children's Hospital, "Ritalin is very effective at helping people to concentrate, focus, and be alert, and the effect is not specific to those with ADHD."

Study Drugs Easily Obtained

Of the students using these drugs, most do not see anything wrong in doing so, and even talk openly about them. Said one student at a top-rated university in an ABC News report, "I think that that psychology permeates through the entire library. You can be here and you know, it's very open to talk and exchange about study drugs."

Kids get the drugs either from friends who have valid prescriptions and simply give them away (or sell them for up to $10 a pill), or try to get their own prescription after a brief doctor's consultation.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, "Youngsters have little difficulty obtaining methylphenidate [the generic name for Ritalin] from classmates or friends who have been prescribed it. Greater efforts to safeguard this medication at home and school are needed."

Even adults looking to gain an extra edge in their careers have discovered the speed-like effects of study drugs.

Students are not the only ones who've noticed the performance-enhancing aspects of these drugs. High school kids and younger teens have also begun using them, as have adults who are trying to gain an edge in today's fast-paced work environments.

Further, "Methylphenidate has been used in warfare to improve performance, to help soldiers stay focused and alert for long periods of time," says Smith.

Dangers of Study Drugs

Even though the commonly used study drugs Ritalin and Adderall are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they produce many of the same effects as cocaine or amphetamines.

Along with increasing heart rate and blood pressure, "What it means, in rare situations, is the person is put at risk primarily for a cardiac arrhythmia ... Then there's irregular beating of the heart--which can cause sudden death," said Dr. Lawrence Diller, author of "Running on Ritalin".

Further, Dr. Heiligenstein points out that there may be serious psychiatric effects associated with taking the drugs. Over time, students may become dependent on the drugs just to function normally. He says he's already had students who wanted to stop using the drugs but were unable to do so on their own.

Avoid Sharing Your Prescriptions

New York University, which has devoted a page on their Web site to study drugs, mentions that students who do use these drugs legitimately, typically for ADD, may have a hard time facing pressure from their peers who ask for the drugs. They offer the following tips to help students deal with these situations:

  • Keep the prescription in a safe, private spot where only you can access them.

  • Explain that you can't give them out because you want to avoid anyone's possible allergic reaction to a medication not prescribed for him or her.

  • Explain that you need the pills and don't have enough to share.

  • Claim that you have stopped taking the prescription.

Recommended Reading

Illegal Drugs Identification Chart: What They Look Like & How to Recognize Their Effects

Inhalants: The Deadly Dangers to Children and Adults of Accidental and Intentional Abuse


ABC News: Illicit Study Drugs Tempting More Students June 2, 2005

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

New York University Health Center: Study Drugs

CNN Health: Ritalin Abuse

Up All Night With New Study Aids

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