'Study drugs' big part of good grades, some say

Editor's note: Students' names are fictitious, as those interviewed for this article requested anonymity.

One of the largest problems faced by college students is academics, specifically their ability to focus with all the distractions that come with college life. Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, stimulants used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, are seen by many students as solutions to this problem, especially with the ever-increasing emphasis being put on grades at Geneseo.

"It's like the steroids of academia," said one Geneseo student, Tom, referring to Adderall. "It keeps you up, it keeps you focused. It's an unfair advantage."

Dr. Steven Radi, medical director at Lauderdale Health Center, recognized the benefits of using drugs like Adderall.

"That's what we're looking for, their [students'] ability to really focus on their schoolwork," said Radi. "[These drugs] work, they really do."

Most students suffering from ADHD receive prescriptions and refills from their home doctors, according to Radi. If a student comes to Lauderdale seeking a prescription, they are referred to Dr. Robert Young, the consulting psychiatrist at the center.

"We don't start anybody on Adderall or any medications for ADHD until they have been specifically diagnosed," said Radi.

Even without a doctor's prescription, students find ways to get their hands on drugs like Adderall. One Geneseo student, Lenny, used Adderall for a year to help with his schoolwork.

"The year I was on Adderall was the best year of my college career," he said. "I missed Dean's List by .1 both times and I was taking harder classes than I ever was before."

Neil, another Geneseo student, echoed similar sentiments.

"The best grades I've ever had by far were when I took Adderall," he said. Neil used Adderall three times per week on average during the spring 2007 semester and made the Dean's List for the first time, a feat he has yet to repeat without Adderall.

Situations like these are scary to Radi. "My concern is unmonitored and unprescribed use," he said. "It's just dangerous. People who don't have that diagnosis should not use it; the side effect profile is too high."

The most common side effects of Adderall are sleep disturbance, jitteriness, appetite suppression, nausea and racing of the heart. Other, more serious side effects include depression, liver problems, stroke and even death.

In 2005, Canada banned Adderall XR, an extended-release form of the drug, after it was linked to 20 sudden deaths and 12 strokes among people to whom it was prescribed. The ban, however, was lifted six months later after a government committee concluded that "an increased risk of sudden cardiac death and/or stroke with Adderall XR compared to alternate active treatments [for ADHD] has not been proven."

Tom and Neil experienced no adverse side effects while on Adderall, but that wasn't the case for two other Geneseo students.

Danny has used Adderall five times, with the last being about three to four months ago, when he was sent to the hospital.

"I took another [Adderall] before the other one had worn off," he said. "It wasn't my prescription and I guess it was a pretty strong prescription and it exacerbated some previous medical conditions I had."

Frank, a Geneseo student who suffers from ADHD, has also had issues with Adderall in the past. He was prescribed Adderall during his sophomore year of college after using it 5-6 times during high school and his freshman year.

"The residual effects of Adderall would be really bad, I could not sleep sometimes," he said. "Sometimes I would have to take a sleep aid like Nyquil, and I would wake up and my jaw would hurt because I was grinding my teeth in my sleep."

Frank was then prescribed Focalin, a derivative of Adderall made from the purest form of Adderall's active ingredients, during his junior year.

"I realized that [Adderall] was just way too powerful and there were way too many side effects," he said.

Frank's grades, however, saw an improvement on the drug.

"In high school, I never had problems getting good grades without really studying and reading too much," he said. "When I got to college, I really bombed freshman year." Frank's grades have improved since, and he said "part of it was definitely due to the Adderall."

Frank has experienced racing of the heart and jitteriness from Adderall and Focalin, but the smaller doses and cleaner withdrawal of Focalin helped him limit the drug's side effects.

Another Geneseo student who suffers from ADHD, Sam, was put on Ritalin during his senior year of high school and only recently stopped taking the drug. "[My grades] got better when I started taking it, they definitely did," said Sam. "Off it, they didn't really change."

Sam didn't use Ritalin at all during the summer of 2007, and came back to school feeling like he didn't need it.

"I don't seem to get distracted as much anymore, he said. "I think I've figured out how to stay focused."

Sam added that people would constantly ask him to sell them Ritalin, and that also contributed to his decision to stop taking the drug. He has experienced no adverse side effects since he stopped taking the Ritalin.

For those who seek these drugs without a prescription, attaining Adderall or Ritalin is not an easy task, but many manage to do it.

"Getting Adderall is kind of hard," said Lenny. "Kids are sketchy about that stuff, and I would be too. It's expensive."

These comments are cause for concern to Radi, who said, "[Unprescribed use] seems to be increasing again, and I would do everything to discourage that."

"I really respect these drugs, I see their potential for helping people, but I'm also very concerned about their potential for abuse," he said.