Smart drug, bad consequence
Senior Joe Voytek has a full plate — balancing 16 credit hours, a full-time job, a part-time internship, a daily 45-minute commute and attention-deficit disorder.
In November, Voytek was prescribed Vyvanse, a stress-reducing stimulant often prescribed to people dealing with attention-deficit disorders.
He takes a 40-milligram pill every day, which he said lasts 12 hours.
“I don’t feel it the whole time,” Voytek said. “But it’s something that, when I’m doing stuff, I just notice myself not getting sidetracked from what I’m doing right there at that moment.”
And he’s not the only student to take a drug to endure college.
“Everyone pretty much wants it,” Voytek said about friends approaching him for his prescription. “It definitely helps. I’ll tell you firsthand — it definitely helps.”
The use of Vyvanse, along with other stimulants like Adderall, has become prevalent among college students. They’ve been coined “smart drugs,” allowing students to study longer and better.
A 2009 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report stated that full-time college students are twice as likely to use Adderall non-medically than those who had not been in college or were only part-time students.
Before his Vyvanse prescription, Voytek took Adderall.
“Every now and then, finals week came around. [I] had to write a big paper, had to study for two big tests the same day. It’s just like, ‘Hey, can I get an Adderall?’” Voytek would ask a friend.
“No big deal,” they would tell him.
According to a report in the 2010 American Journal on Addictions, 50 percent of people who are prescribed stimulants are approached by those who are not. They seek the medication illegally.
Voytek’s reaction to Adderall made him seek an alternative prescription. He said he had a cluttered mind, felt jittery and was overstimulated.
These affects are minor compared to what Youngstown State University student Jonathan Crist experienced last month.
According to a police report, Crist flagged down a police cruiser outside his apartment complex. He told police he had “overdosed on Adderall.”
Crist was “having problems in school and [did] not think he [would] graduate this year due to his grades.” He had “bought the Adderall off an unknown subject,” and “did not know how much of the drug he had taken,” according to the report.
He told police he had not slept in two days, and was drinking beer and smoking marijuana with friends before he approached police at 2:39 a.m., according to the report.
Several attempts were made to contact Crist, who was taken to St. Elizabeth Health Center by ambulance that night.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that about 90 percent of full-time college students who used Adderall outside of a prescription abused alcohol as well. Half were considered “heavy alcohol users.”
The report also stated that non-medical Adderall users were nearly three times more likely to use marijuana than someone who is actually prescribed the drug.
Crist is 22 years old.
A study done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 2.8 percent of all 21- to 22-year-olds use Adderall non-medically.
But the rate nearly triples when those 21- and 22-year-olds are enrolled in college. Seven percent of full-time college students take Adderall non-medically, the highest rate of use among all age groups measured.
Along with recreational uses, college students take Adderall for its ability to increase productivity and alertness.
While Adderall calms and focuses those with ADD or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, it has an adverse effect on those who aren’t diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.
The effect is similar to cocaine use, which adds to the drug’s recreational appeal, some physicians say.
The drug is an amphetamine, which has a history of varying uses.
Pilots originally used amphetamines during WWII to stay awake and alert while flying. In the 1990s, Adderall and Ritalin were used to treat children with attention-deficit disorders.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reported that between 1992 and 2002, the number of prescriptions for ADHD medications in the U.S. increased 369 percent to 23.4 million a year.
Chris Hammond, a pediatrician for PeaceHealth in Eugene, Ore., said ADHD was seen as more of a pediatric problem 16 years ago.
He said the use of stimulants by adults has increased dramatically in the past eight years.
“They used to think that children would grow out of their ADHD, and to some extent they can, and they do,” Hammond said. “I think that more people want to take the medication than depend on willpower.”
Hammond said Adderall is sometimes used as a diet drug to control obesity, and that it has the ability to increase anxiety and obstruct sleep habits. The stimulant has addictive components and is a derivative of methamphetamine, he said.
As a pediatrician, Hammond steers away from prescribing children stimulant medications and said he doesn’t have any patients currently on any type of stimulant.
He said non-stimulant drugs have a more positive effect on children overall.
“There are now non-stimulant ADHD medications, like Intuniv and Strattera, so there are other choices besides stimulants,” Hammond said. “If we do prescribe something, it’s not necessarily an extended release right away.”
Extended release medications, he said, are less intense. Adderall is considered to have an extended release effect because the capsule gradually dissolves, releasing medication in a “slow and steady” manner over time.
Some experts are at a loss to explain why usage is so high among college students.
“We can’t give much insight as to why college campuses might have higher levels than other parts of the population,” Brad Stone, spokesman for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said about college students being twice as likely to use Adderall non-medically.
John Moretti, a psychology instructor at YSU and a former researcher for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said when stimulants fall into the hands of people who are not written a prescription, they are often used as a performance enhancer.
“People take these drugs when they’re out partying so they can stay up later and party more,” Moretti said. “When they use the performance enhancers for school, they’re taking lower doses so they’re not getting a buzz, per se.”
Moretti said those who take non-medicinal stimulants are typically people with lower grade point averages, Caucasians and people from a higher economic status.
He added that people who rely on a quick fix become entrenched and dependent.
Stimulants, he said, have been associated with addiction and can even prime people for addiction to other substances. He said when the effects of stimulants wear off, the sensations a person feels from a normal day seem dull.
“We always want a quick and easy fix. There are many ways to treat depression, for example, like exercise,” he said. “But people would rather just do it in a pill. It reflects our culture and the attitude of the drug companies that are selling it.”