Colaneri: Addressing Adderall Abuse
By Natalie Colaneri, Staff Columnist
Published on Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Recently, we have devoted much attention to binge drinking, sexual assault and hazing on Dartmouth’s campus. However, there is another widespread problem that deserves equal attention but is often neglected in open campus dialogue: the pervasive use of study drugs.
Last term, I conducted an independent study on Dartmouth students’ perceptions of prescription stimulant misuse for cognitive enhancement purposes. Misuse refers to the use of these drugs by non-prescribed users, who often do not have the disorder the drug is designed to treat. The students I interviewed unanimously thought that Adderall, a prescription stimulant medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was the most commonly misused drug on campus due to its effects in aiding studying.
Dartmouth College Health Services declined to provide me with statistics regarding prescription drug misuse on our campus. Through my interviews with students from different parts of the Dartmouth community, however, I gained some interesting insight into the wide-ranging perceptions of study drug misuse. Some students didn’t observe much use of study drugs on campus, while others perceived high usage rates. For example, one varsity athlete believed that 70 percent of Dartmouth students used these drugs, commenting that everyone on his team and almost everyone in his fraternity used Adderall or other ADHD medications when they were struggling to complete their work, particularly during finals period.
On average, the students I interviewed thought that about one quarter of Dartmouth students have used study drugs. Granted, this statistic is based on student perceptions of study drug misuse, which may not accurately reflect the actual percentage of Dartmouth students who misuse these drugs. However, research on prescription drug misuse on other college campuses shows an even higher statistic, and this is cause for concern. Regardless of the exact prevalence of drug misuse on our campus, this anecdotal evidence is enough information to warrant further investigation. Like other drugs, the use of study drugs among college students is disconcerting because of the negative health consequences and addictive potential. In addition, misuse of these drugs specifically for cognitive enhancement poses an additional problem that other illicit drugs do not. Using mind-altering drugs to increase concentration while studying is unethical and can be considered cheating in an educational setting, the same way that performance-enhancing drugs should not be used during athletic competition. Indeed, students who misuse these drugs seem to be gaining a significant unfair advantage that cannot be attained by any other means such as caffeine and sleeping well.
To address the problem of study drug misuse, there must first be open discussion of this issue. DCHS needs to further investigate and publicly release statistics on the prevalence of this misuse on the Dartmouth campus. To date, the Dartmouth administration has never once acknowledged study drugs on our campus. There is no need for this drug misuse to remain an open secret that is never formally brought up. There are forums and committees for other problems on this campus, and this issue deserves that same attention.
Dartmouth should also follow the recent precedents set by Duke University and Wesleyan University by adding prescription stimulant misuse as a violation of the Dartmouth College Academic Honor Principle. The advantage accorded to students misusing these drugs seems to be more than just alertness that is provided by caffeine, but also artificially increased concentration. These study drugs threaten the academic integrity of Dartmouth, and adding this drug misuse to the honor code would be an appropriate measure to take.
Finally, Dartmouth needs to re-evaluate the structure of the reading period before finals so that students are not pushed to the point of turning to study drugs. It is unnecessary to have a highly stressful two-day reading period that compels students to misuse these drugs — especially every Spring term, when Memorial Day is designated as one of the two reading period days.
Ultimately, the misuse of study drugs is an issue that deserves immediate consideration by students, the faculty and the College administration, since it has negative health consequences for the student body and detrimental ethical consequences for the institution as a whole.