By Thomas Oide and Riley Donahue,
31 percent of college students used the stimulant Adderall to make it easier to focus while studying, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of American College Health.
Data collected from surveys at DHS in the past two years confirm that the use of the stimulant has trickled down to the high school level. More than 60 percent of the juniors and seniors surveyed in 2014 said they had heard about students using the stimulant for academic reasons.
That is an increase from the previous school year, when more than 40 percent of all upperclassmen had heard of non-prescription Adderall use at DHS.
Adderall is a stimulant commonly used by children and teens who suffer from the effects of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It sharpens focus and increases attention, making it a popular drug for students to use while studying.
Senior Drew Thomsen has ADHD and was prescribed Adderall as a junior to help him focus during school. He has since stopped taking the drug because of how powerful it was.
“When you’re on it, you’re on it; it’s like speed or meth basically,” Thomsen said. “A lot of endorphins are released when you’re doing a lot of tasks that you wouldn’t normally enjoy. You can sit down and focus on taking notes in math because it’s bringing you chemical joy.”
However, there is a downside to the drug. Thomsen says there is an inevitable crash after taking Adderall, even when prescribed by a doctor.
“When that synthetic pleasure goes away, it’s like a emotional crater, a chemical depression kind of thing that goes on,” he said. “That’s why I stopped taking it. I couldn’t hang with that.”
“Adderall prevents sleeping,” Da Vinci junior Dale Calhoun added. “I just can’t really sleep most nights because of Adderall. But when you take it the morning, it gives you this boost.
But it’s a stressful energy boost.”
While Adderall can help students who have ADHD, there is a significant portion of the DHS student population who use the drug for other reasons. Nearly all of the students who admitted to using Adderall in surveys conducted by The HUB said that they use it before the SAT and ACT as well as during finals week.
Many students use Adderall with the misconception that it is harmless, but that is not the case, according to experts.
Adderall is classified as a Schedule II drug by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA defines a Schedule II substance as “drugs with a high potential for abuse, less abuse potential than Schedule I drugs, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous.”
Other Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, OxyContin, Vicodin and Ritalin. Schedule I substances, the only group of drugs that is classified as “more dangerous” than Schedule II substances, include marijuana, ecstasy and heroin.
Yvonne Otani, a pediatrician at the Kaiser Permanente facility in Davis, described the abuse of Adderall in a simple way.
“Think of this like diabetes,” Otani said. “You wouldn’t take insulin without having diabetes, and similarly, you would not want to take a medication for ADHD if you did not have it.”
“It is very dangerous to take this medication when one is not under the direction of a physician. Teens can experience cardiac complications, addiction, and other serious side effects if taking this medication without being medically cleared to do so.”
The HUB found one person who admitted to selling their Adderall prescriptions for personal profit in surveys of six different classes. According to Thomsen, selling Adderall at DHS isn’t difficult at all.
“People asked me all the time for it,” Thomsen said. “I don’t sell prescription drugs, that’s not the kind of road I want to go down. But if I wanted to, I could.”
Thomsen also said that he knows people who fake the symptoms of ADHD in order to obtain an Adderall prescription, then they later sell the medication. Gaining a false prescription is possible because no blood test or imaging can identify if someone has ADHD with 100 percent certainty. Doctors can only perform a series of tests and screenings to try to diagnose the condition.
“In one’s teen years, many things can cause inattention and lack of focus, including depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders, all of which are common in teens. There are very strict guidelines as to what constitutes the diagnosis of ADHD,” Otani explained. “After a complete psychological screening to rule out other causes, as well as to assess the attentional and focus issues, a child or teen may receive the diagnosis. After this, there is a discussion regarding risks and benefits of taking medication, and only then, after both the teen and parents are in agreement with the physician, is a prescription done.”
However, Otani says that the tests pediatricians conduct to diagnose ADHD are not as accurate when conducted on teenagers, which may explain students’ ability to get a prescription without actually having the condition.
Otani said Kaiser is doing everything they can to prevent the spread of Adderall abuse by carefully monitoring prescriptions for patients.
“The best way, in our opinion, to limit non prescription Adderall, is to make sure our prescriptions are accurate,” Otani explained. “To this end, we only give two month prescriptions with very accurate pill counts. If a prescription is requested too early, it is denied, and we follow patients every six months to both assure our pill counts are accurate as well as to follow the effect of the medication.”
But even with all the precautions taken by pediatricians, Otani says that DHS students will ultimately determine whether the abuse of Adderall continues to be a problem at DHS.
“The best prevention is to make sure students stop other students and warn them of the dangers of taking this prescription medication if not medically indicated,” Otani said.
“It can have serious side effects if there is no medical screening prior to starting. Any teens who take this medication should, of course, not share this medication with anybody else; they can be responsible for harming someone if that person has a bad reaction to the medication.”