Posted: December 14, 2013 at 8:16 pm

By Ashley Hite, Nicole Linder and Charles Richardson

Amber gets most of her clients around finals week.  The text messages and requests for some of her ADD medication, Vyvanse, start to pour in after Thanksgiving break and continue until the end of the semester.

“I guess I am slightly a drug dealer,” says Amber, a student at West Virginia University.

The abuse of ADHD and ADD medications on college campuses is rising.  About 6.4 percent of full-time college students used Adderall non-medically in 2008, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).  The use of the stimulants for academic purposes is known by a few names, like “academic doping” and “study drugs.”

“At the time, when I was using it a lot, I could go to four to five people in my phone,” says Jessica, a senior at WVU. “Some were friends, some were acquaintances, some were just people that I knew from classes and they were like, ‘Hey, I have this’ and they want to make an extra buck.  They don’t care.”

The prescription drugs are easy to get a hold of for students, and many don’t see an issue with selling their prescription or taking a prescription non-medically.  A single pill pulls in $5 for Amber, a small amount, but Amber sells around 10 pills or more per prescription and nets over $50.

Some WVU students are known to sell their prescription stimulants to make money and help out their fellow classmates.

“I mean, I’m a poor college student,” says Amber.  “I mean people donate plasma, do studies, and I’ll sell my medicine to have money.”

Unlike donating plasma, selling personal prescription medications is a felony, and can impact the remainder of a student’s life.  Everything from student loans to jobs can be difficult to attain with a felony on record.

“If you get caught, it is a felony,” says John Spraggins, the director of the WVU Student Assistance Program.  “They may have like one pill, and, say if they get busted in the dorm for pot and they get their room searched and they have one pill, and they don’t have a script, there’s potential trouble.”

The culture of alcohol and drugs has changed.  Of the 6.4 percent of college students who abused Adderall in 2008, more than half reported that they were heavy alcohol users as well, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

“[Substance abuse is] higher at WVU.  We’ve got that number one party school stuff,” says Spraggins.  “I started doing this program 17 years ago.  One, we weren’t seeing as many people coming in with problems with marijuana, it wasn’t as big.  It’s bigger now. The amount that people were drinking, back then, it was lower.  Like now it’s nothing for us to see girls and guys, they’re drinking two to three times a week; they’re drinking eight, ten, twelve drinks.  That’s like nothing, but it wasn’t like that 17 years ago.”

The students non-medically using ADD and ADHD medications, like Vyvanse, Adderall, and Ritalin, aren’t aware of the side effects or don’t understand the severity of the abuse.

“There’s always that potential for abuse, because people want to get an edge,” says Spraggins.  “‘Oh I can stay up. Oh I’ll be able to study longer.’  But they’re not thinking in terms of what are the negatives? What are the consequences? Because we’re talking about young people, that are like, ‘Oh man, I’ll just do it just this one time.’  That one time it could be dangerous.”

The risk of addiction isn’t the only thing students have to worry about.  Health issues can arise from using the prescriptions non-medically.

“In order to get prescribed it, one, you have to go to a doctor, mostly you have to go to a psychiatrist, and you have to get a physical, everything, they’ll check your heart, blood pressure, because if you’re taking a stimulant, it’s just like taking cocaine for people that don’t have ADD,” says Spraggins.  “So you’re taking a super powerful drug.  Even if it’s a little pill, it can have a tremendous impact on you.  You could have a heart attack.  You could have a stroke.  You could have a brain bleed.  It could cause gastrointestinal problems.”

Stimulants are highly abused drugs among college students who need extra help focusing on final exams and schoolwork.

Stimulants are highly abused drugs among college students who need extra help focusing on final exams and schoolwork.

According to Spraggins, ADD medications may not work for students without Attention Deficit Disorder.

“For many people that don’t have Attention Deficit [Disorder], it doesn’t even work anyway,” says Spraggins.  “So you’re thinking you’re going to take it to help you stay up and study and it won’t even help you.  So you don’t get the increased concentration and focus so it doesn’t even work.  People that have Attention Deficit [Disorder], their prefrontal cortex is different.”

Amber isn’t concerned about the abuse, she trusts her “clients, and, like many students, she believes that “study drugs” are much better than students taking “harder” drugs.

“I trust their judgment, to be honest,” says Amber.  “A lot of people who have gotten it from me have done more drugs or they have done stronger stimulants. During the whole process of me trying to find something [medication] they said that if this didn’t work then we would move to Adderall. I’ve never had Adderall. So the people that I’ve given it to, all of them have done a stronger stimulant.”

There is a mentality among college students that abusing ADD medication like Adderall is much better than abusing “harder” drugs like cocaine or heroin, according to a study published in the “Journal of Drug Issues” in 2006.  Doing these “soft” drugs is more socially acceptable; another thing, like drinking, that’s expected from a college student.

“When I do hear about these cases I feel like I am contributing to the cause, but I guess as bad as this sounds, I feel like college is an excuse for a lot of things,” says Amber.  “I view college as just this time that, I guess, you can do all of these wrong things, and I think that if you aren’t putting people in life threatening situations and you’re using good judgment to an extent.”


* Some names have been changed to protect the students’ identity.