Adderall dealing on campus reflects increasing academic pressures

At a competitive school in the shadow of Silicon Valley and elite universities, there are many times when studying alone doesn’t cut it. In these times of need, students buy and sell Adderall out of pocket to keep up with the intensifying national trends of competitive college admissions.

One student, who asked to remain anonymous, became one of many teen Adderall dealers in the Burlingame community shortly after he was prescribed the medication for Attention Deficit Disorder.

“I was super happy but I felt I was cheating a bit, so I started giving to people I know who were not doing so well when they had tests,” he said, emphasizing the academic pressure involved in buying the medication from peers. “I don’t turn a profit, I just do it to help the people around me.”

Medication for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has been a godsend for many struggling with the disorder since the approval of Ritalin in 1955, but Adderall is a relatively new beast. Adderall, a millennial-era prescription stimulant medication, has been prescribed in droves since its approval by the FDA in 1996. As prescriptions have increased in the last few years, study drugs are becoming more and more prominent.

A national survey of college-bound high school graduates have shown that they are struggling with emotional health problems at record levels in more than three decades. Every year the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) conducts extensive interviews of more than 150,000 college freshmen at nearly 2,000 U.S. universities.  In one part of the questionnaire entitled “emotional strength,” students rate their ability to cope with daily stressors. Ratings by both male and female respondents have consistently declined since 1985, when the section was first added to the national survey. The marks students gave themselves in emotional strength in 2016 were the lowest ever in 31 years. Emotional vulnerability is tied to increasing pressure to receive high academic marks. The students who buy Adderall at BHS are also part of this extensive, diverse group of grade-conscious teens.

According to the aforementioned student seller, people that buy Adderall from him are typically “either stressed out with exams or [people] who need to pass a class to play sports. All types of people buy, even gamers who want to play better.”

One junior, who asked to remain anonymous, said she started using so-called designer drugs like Tramadol, an addictive narcotic used to treat pain, during her freshman year out of mere curiosity, but purchased Adderall during her freshman year out of sheer pressure to succeed in high school.

“I could get so much done and I understood everything,” she said of the first time she bought. However, the complications revolving around non prescribed stimulant use--including restlessness, anxiety, and increased risk of overdose and addiction-- make using a risky endeavor.  

According to Dr. Steven Sust, a psychiatrist at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, a combination of a shortage in child psychiatrists who best suited to diagnose ADHD and the unpredictability of growing up using prescription stimulants makes for an especially risky prospect for Adderall misuse.

“There is no one size fits all treatment,” said Dr. Sust on the many approaches to an ADHD diagnosis. “It is always medically unwise to take medication that’s not prescribed by your doctor.”

For some, using one stimulant without accompanying “parent training and cognitive behavioral therapy” can be risky. When using a stimulant like Adderall without other treatment or even a diagnosis, the risks can be even higher. Nevertheless, unprescribed Adderall use remains a source of academic strength for some.

“I feel like if you’re using prescription drugs without a prescription because you feel like you need them to function on everyday life then that’s fine,” said the junior, also acknowledging the divisiveness of her stance. “But just using them recklessly is just a waste of time and harmful to your being.”

For now, Adderall remains a lifeline for many students in the midst of a stressful school environment.

Posted on November 26, 2017 .