Abuse of the
Stimulant Adderall is Prevalent Among Students, Who Use it as a
Kara Hughett, Jacksonville Times-Union, January 9, 2006
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began taking Adderall when he was 11 years old. He had already
been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and
had the usual signs: His attention was everywhere and his grades
When he got to college, he found out there was a lot of interest
in his pills. Friends began asking for them.
"Some kids take it to write a 15-page paper in a night," the
23-year-old Jacksonville resident and recent Florida State
University graduate said. "I take it just to be normal."
The pills have reportedly become increasingly common on campuses
around the country as students use them and other prescription
amphetamines, such as the ADHD drug Ritalin, to stay awake for
studying and, sometimes, partying. There are reports of Adderall
selling for $5 to $10 a pill and of students crushing and
snorting it to get a faster, more extreme effect. The drug can
produce a dramatic dependence, and it can cause withdrawal
symptoms for users who sell their pills instead of taking them.
"I've sold it before because I needed the money, but it's not
worth it," Woodall said. "It was a ways and means to pay my
"There becomes a huge market for it around midterms and finals,"
said Hope McLaughlin, a licensed clinical social worker who has
a private practice in Jacksonville that specializes in
adolescent substance abuse.
McLaughlin said 70 percent of her caseload is high school
students who self-report their drug abuse. This group and other
factors point to Adderall frequently being abused for studying
and to offset the effects of other drugs, she said.
To begin with, there's much more Adderall and similar drugs
· There was a dramatic increase in attention deficit diagnoses
in the late '80s and early '90s. Those children are now in
· There are more controlled drugs in circulation. According
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, prescriptions
written for controlled substances increased more than 150
percent from 1992 to 2002, almost 12 times the increase in
population in that period.
· The center also found last year that only 6 percent of the 158
Web sites selling medications required a prescription.
"It somehow and someway gets prescribed and the parents give
their child the responsibility of taking it," said JoAnn Chaney
of Gateway Community Services, a non-profit substance-abuse
treatment service agency. "The kids then take it to school and
According to the Attention Deficit Disorder organization,
Adderall is a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine
that was first developed and marketed more than 20 years ago as
a weight control drug called Obetrol. It was approved by the FDA
as a treatment for ADHD in 1996. A stimulant, it increases the
flow of dopamine and norepinephrine into the extraneuronal space
and an increased ability to focus for extended periods of time.
Andy Davis, a junior at the University of North Florida, said he
now has a prescription for Adderall but used to get the drug
from friends. He looked for the drug to offset his attention
deficit disorder during heavy study times in his first two years
at the school. He'd take one a day, and friends would give him
four or five pills for amounts ranging from free to $2 a pill.
"It was pretty easy," he said. "It's not that difficult to get a
prescription, really." According to a University of
Wisconsin-Madison survey taken six years ago, about one-fifth of
students who were prescribed an attention deficit drug such as
Adderall either sold it, shared it with friends or abused it.
Adderall isn't the only prescription drug being abused. Adderall
and Ritalin provide a buzz; synthetic opiates such as Percocet
and Vicodin mellow things out. And, like so many others,
Adderall can be addictive if abused, Jacobs said.
"It's a Schedule II drug for a reason," she said.
Adderall is a stimulant that ultimately controls the central
nervous system, allowing users to maintain focus of their
thoughts and actions. The government classifies it as a Schedule
II drug because it has a high potential for abuse, and this
abuse can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
People with ADHD can end up paying a price for selling their
pills, said David Goodman, an assistant professor of psychiatry
and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School
of Medicine. Users tend to suffer withdrawal effects when not
taking their medication, and they relapse into the effects of
"I've gone three or four weeks without it and it was horrible,"
Woodall said. "You build up a tolerance to it and you need it
more and more."
Earlier this year, Canada pulled Adderall XR, an
extended-release version of the drug, off the market after
regulators became concerned about possible side effects
including sudden deaths, heart-related deaths, and strokes. But
in August it was cleared to be sold again in the country.
Though there are reports of abuse from around the country, it's
wise to keep things in perspective, said Kevin Modglin,
coordinator of alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention at UNF.
"Every couple of years, there's a new issue with another drug,"
he said. "A couple of years ago it was Oxycontin. Before that it
was Ecstasy. But even when we have good solid data on their use,
it's really minor."
According to a 2003 study at UNF, he said, less than 2 percent
of the students had tried Oxycontin and less than 7 percent had
tried Ecstasy. He said no one has reported Adderall abuse to
Michelle Jacobs, a psychiatrist at the University of Florida's
Student Health Care Center, is on the prescribing end of it. She
said Adderall is probably the most commonly prescribed attention
deficit medication for the college age group. Younger patients,
she said, don't handle Adderall as well.
A few years ago, she found out that two of her patients, both
athletes, were giving away their Adderall. So she stopped the
"There are other red flags," she said. "If someone says that
they need a new prescription because their pills were stolen
with their backpacks, well, backpacks do get stolen around here.
But that will work for me one time."
And it's difficult for students to come in and fake the
attention deficit symptoms to get an Adderall prescription, she
said. They have to have a long background of treatment or, if
the diagnosis is recent, they'd need testing.
Kara Hughett is a student at the University of North Florida.
Times-Union writers Roger Bull and John Timpe contributed to
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