The Most Popular Pill On Campus

This story won the USA TODAY College Journalism Award

Amanda Parker, a Mercy College senior, sits in a psychiatrist’s office anxiously twiddling her thumbs and fidgeting with the tiny thread that dangles from her sweater.

Her evaluation begins.

The doctor observes the student squirming in her seat.

“So, you’ve been referred because you believe you have ADHD?”

“Well, I mean, I’m having a really hard time focusing,” Parker responds quickly, her eyes bouncing from the floor to the ceiling to the clock and back to the doctor.

“And, and not only in school but at home, at work, even when I drive – isn’t that dangerous?” she continues.

Skeptical, the doctor jots down a few notes on her pad.

“Ok, Amanda, why don’t you copy these few sentences for me,” the doctor says as she slides a notepad and pen across the desk.

After analyzing the three-sentence paragraph for a bit, Parker sits for over five minutes as her pen jumps around the paper like a pogo stick.

Nervously, she hands back the finished product.

The doctor briefly reviews the jumbled up letter and scribbled out words.

“Ok, Amanda,” she says with a coy smile, “that was very good. Be sure to check out with the receptionist on your way out.”

Completely baffled, Parker questions the doctor’s diagnosis.

Well, isn’t there anything you can prescribe me? I mean, I definitely have ADHD, right?

“Were going to look further into it and contact you if we should find anything out of the ordinary,” she assures her patient.

A disappointed and confused Parker leaves the psychiatrist’s office without the prescription she and her study pals were hoping for.


The “Magic” of Medicine

aderall, or the “miracle pill” as referred to by many struggling college students in the United States, is a compound of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. The chemical combination is commonly prescribed as treatment for children and adults suffering from Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, otherwise known as ADHD.

William Frankenberge, psychology professor at University of Wisconsin, conducted a 2004 study by polling 120 college campuses and determined that “14 percent of the campus had abused some form of ADHD, including Adderall.”

He stated that at universities known to be highly competitive, the numbers ballooned up to 25 percent.

The mixture concealed in the little blue pills and sometimes pale-orange capsules is considered the equivalent to prescription speed.

For patients diagnosed with ADHD, Adderall is calming. But for those who don’t have any problem with hyperactivity, the stimulant helps maintain their focus; a sheer wonder drug for students.

“It’s God-sent,” says Bob Smith, a Mercy College sophomore and baseball player for the schools team. “There’s a huge difference from when I’m on Adderall to when I’m not. My focus is sharper and I can study for hours.”

While the effects of Adderall last for several hours, depending on the dosage, side effects range from non-severe to life threatening.

Those who take smaller dosages (5 and 10 mg) are likely to experience dry mouth, loss of appetite, and inactive or overactive bowel movements. Taking 15, 20 and 30 mg capsules may cause heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, and seizures.

“The comedown is probably the worst part,” Smith adds, “because your body is exhausted while your mind is still racing.”

Many psychiatrists prescribe Adderall to patients with ADHD and depending on how severe their case seems, the dosage is altered. The drug is often not administered to people with a history of drug addiction, as amphetamines can lead to addiction and abuse.

Adderall Origins

Originally concocted for dietary purposes, Obetrol hit the market in the 1960s. It was banned by the Food and Drug Administration ten years after its introduction, only to resurface with a new name and intention in 1997 – the bottle read: Adderall.

Adderall was presented as an alternative to Ritalin because it was considered safer and more effective, especially for small children

Perhaps the dramatic increase of children diagnosed with ADHD in the 1990s is the reason why Adderall remains so popular today. Those kids have grown up and now attend colleges all over the world, Adderall in tow.

Many college students with the “golden” prescription sacrifice their pills and share with their friends in need of instant motivation.

Samantha Lawrence, a senior at Mercy College has been prescribed Adderall since 2003. She takes one 10 mg tablet twice a day for her ADHD- at least that’s what her doctor thinks.

“I don’t need my entire prescription, so I’ll usually sell half of my Adderall to friends and whoever else needs it to study,” she admits.

“I watch my friends ruthlessly cram before tests, and I feel bad because I have something that could make the process so simple. I sell them for $5 per pill; I just don’t see it as a dangerous thing.”

Adderall Usage Soars

The drug is easily accessible for the desperate students in need of that extra boost of motivation. A subject that could take weeks to fully comprehend can be learned in just a couple of hours with a few milligrams of Adderall to aid in the process.

College campuses, including Mercy College, become Adderall-havens as a wide range of students use the pills to study for midterms and final exams. Everyone from chemistry majors to math majors – even students on the Dean’s list can become Adderall junkies under pressure.

“It takes away your worries. Instead of freaking out over a test, you take a pill and everything works itself out,” says Parker.

Adderall gives students the ability to remain alert and focused for hours- and even days at a time with no signs of fatigue.

The motivation to perform academically in pill-form is considered a gift from the prescription gods to students all over.

Many, however, fail to study the risks that their prized pill can bring: addiction, side effects, and even jail time are possible consequences.

Reasons for non-prescription Adderall usage vary from one person to the next. Some feel they cannot find the time to study, while other simply enjoy the feeling of quick accomplishment.

The pressure and stress to succeed in such a competitive world can often take a toll on today’s college students.

Pressure comes from all directions; from parents, professors, and classmates; it’s no wonder so many students resort to the magic study pill.

“I don’t want to disappoint my parents,” says Phil Walters a Mercy College freshman, “they pay for my tuition and hope that I’ll get good enough grades to secure++ a great job after I graduate.”

With the rising standards of today’s average college campus, Adderall is the crutch that supports students’ academic achievement. Often, students don’t think twice about the ethics of hard work and self-discipline when popping their favorite prescription.

Adderall usage on campus can be compared to steroids used in professional sports; both enhance short-term performance.

Still, the debate exists: are students who abuse Adderall worthy of academic merit?

In such a competitive environment, many who take the drug use it as a quick way to excel in their studies, giving them a bit of an advantage over classmates who don’t use it.

“I’ve heard of people at my school using Adderall to help them study and pass their classes,” says Nicole Shepardson, a Mercy College junior. “I don’t think it’s smart because they’re not learning anything for themselves. They are paying tuition to pop pills and graduate without effort.”

Professor Judith Mitchell, who teaches public relations at Mercy, was unaware of the popularity of Adderall among college students.

“If I notice a substantial change in a student’s behavior in one of my classes, whether because of a prescription medication or not, I would certainly be very concerned. I’d meet with the student and alert his or her advisor,” she states.

“As for whether I could consider the use or abuse of Adderall cheating – if a student is using a medication without a legitimate prescription, then we have more to worry about than an unfair advantage on a test.”

Most students feel that using the drug is not cheating in the least bit.

“All of the work is mine,” says Smith. “The time and effort put into my work is just made a lot easier with the help of Adderall.”

The drug has definitely become a necessity for students without the prescription as they try to make their way through college successfully. The truth remains that much of their academic merit is a result of Adderall abuse.

It goes without saying that students will continue to rely on their pills to pass their courses as long as it is available to them.

Parker, the Mercy College senior who was denied a prescription after failing to act properly like a patient with ADHD, is back at it in the library.

She and two of her study friends busily flip through the pages of their textbooks and furiously write notes as they prepare for their final exams.

The girls sit with books and notebooks sprawled out across the table, chugging Red Bull as they highlight and dedicate post-its to section off their subjects.

“Adderall is always around and I’m sure I’ll always find someone who sells it. However, it would have been a lot easier to have my own prescription,” says Parker as her pen swiftly moves across the paper.

“I owe my grades to Adderall. I probably wouldn’t be graduating in May without it.”

* Names have been changed to protect student identities