Communities That Care: College-age students seek higher achievement with abuse of ‘smart drugs’

November 21, 2012 

When imagining a portrait of drug abuse, generally, street drugs such as cocaine and heroine come to mind. What tends to be absent from these visualizations, however, is the dangerous nature of prescription drugs.

Realistically speaking, unprescribed use and abuse of prescription drugs, fueled by increasing social acceptance and access, has become a growing concern. As a result of the decreased social stigma and the misperception that prescription drugs are a “safer” alternative to more traditional street drugs, stimulant use by college age students is gaining visibility.

Known as “smart drugs,” prescription stimulants, such as Adderall and Ritalin, are misused as study aids because of the increase in cognitive functions and concentration that result. It is believed that this temporary “high” allows students to take in more information in a shorter period of time, therefore attracting a new profile of user who is sensitive and reactive to a productivity-driven culture. Where increased performance can mean better achievement, more faculty recognition, prestige and access to limited future career opportunities, it is not uncommon to see the misuse of unprescribed medications being used by students to gain an edge.

Prescription drug access points vary, including purchasing the pills from individuals with prescriptions, procuring them via the Internet, illegally manufacturing stimulant replacements and theft. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Ritalin is ranked in the top 10 most frequently reported controlled pharmaceutical stolen from licensed handlers.

While society grapples with strategies that might impact student use and abuse, the evidence is clear: There are risks associated with one-time and occasional use. The National Institute for Drug Abuse states the following risks association with stimulant misuse:

• abuse;

• dependence;

• criminal involvement;

• depression; and

• increased risk of mortality.

The Center for Applied Research Solutions also suggests that additional risks include:

• irregular heartbeat;

• cardiovascular failure;

• lethal seizures; and

• feelings of hostility and paranoia from high stimulant doses over a short period of time.

Keeping in mind that our college-age students will continue to be concerned with a strict economy and desire for increased academic performance, parents should not only discuss the risks with their students but also discuss tips for academic success. A few academic success tips for students include:

• attend class regularly;

• familiarize yourself with your academic advisor;

• locate resources for writing help;

• take notes with the intention of using them later;

• choose a study partner for each of your courses;

• schedule adequate preparation time for each of your courses;

• study your most difficult subjects first;

• establish a regular study area; and

• find a healthy way to distress regularly.

Although traditional, these tips may provide students with a natural way to increase their academic performance without the use of prescription stimulants.

Elizabeth Eckley is the Community Mobilizer for Centre County Communities that Care. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.

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