Surely you’ve read about students who abuse pills meant for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder because it helps them study; you may even know of someone who’s gotten into trouble this way. Kids have been selling pills like Adderall and Ritalin to their fellow students for quite some time now. But I bet some readers were as surprised as I was to learn that for some, it can lead to the need for rehab. Experts have found that kids who abuse these specific medications are prone to try other pills, and then heroin.
The New York Times had a L-O-N-G article about the problem last month. It began with an anecdote about a student taking the SATs who snorted Adderall before the test so he could focus better. (It’s been said that the pills allow you to “zone in” quite effectively.) The student portrayed in the beginning of the article said, “Everyone in school either has a prescription or has a friend who does.”
It’s hard to tell if the problem is getting worse—if students are feeling even more pressure to do well—but the interviewer found anecdotal evidence that that’s the case. It seems students are even using them in graduate school.
To read that young people are faking symptoms to get these pills is disheartening, to say the least. Does that also mean that doctors are being too lenient about prescribing them? One psychotherapist said an eighth grader threatened to get the pills from school if she couldn’t get them from her.
Here’s the medical and legal information presented in the article:
The D.E.A. lists prescription stimulants like Adderall and Vyvanse (amphetamines) and Ritalin and Focalin (methylphenidates) as Class 2 controlled substances — the same as cocaine and morphine — because they rank among the most addictive substances that have a medical use. (By comparison, the long-abused anti-anxiety drug Valium is in the lower Class 4.) So they carry high legal risks, too, as few teenagers appreciate that merely giving a friend an Adderall or Vyvanse pill is the same as selling it and can be prosecuted as a felony.
While these medicines tend to calm people with A.D.H.D., those without the disorder find that just one pill can jolt them with the energy and focus to push through all-night homework binges and stay awake during exams afterward.
The article says that abusing the drugs can cause mood swings from sleep deprivation, depression, heart irregularities, and psychosis during withdrawal. I’ll put this in all caps for emphasis: AND FOR SOME, THE PILLS LEAD TO ABUSE OF PAINKILLERS AND SLEEP AIDS. Some students end up in rehab directly from abusing ADHD medication, but others, who abusing painkillers as the next step, are another group.
A doctor from Caron treatment center said young abusers are changing the chemistry of their brains with ADHD pills. The boy in the parking lot ended up addicted to Percocet and then heroin, yet a spokesperson from one of the ADHD manufacturers insisted that studies of ADHD drugs show no link between the drugs show no link to later abuse of other medications.
Joan adds: Kaitlin Bell Barnett has written an excellent book about the newest generation to enter the work force, kids who grew up on adderall, ritalin, and SSRIs (mood stabilizers). "Dosed: The Medication Generation Grows Up."