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Students are back in school and they aren't using NoDoz to get ahead

Have your high school or college students mentioned the prevalence of "study drugs" on their campus? I've written previously about the tragic impact of opioid abuse and what to consider before filling a prescription for teens. We need to talk about the misuse of prescription stimulants with the students in our lives, as well.

Millions, including my son, are prescribed stimulant medications for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). His brain chemistry requires it in conjunction with other tools to be successful. It turns out many students are self-medicating without the benefit of physician monitoring to avoid the side effects of these controlled substances.

These stimulants are Schedule II drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin. They include amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall, Adderall XR, and generics), methylphenidate (Concerta, Methylin, Methylin ER, Metadate CD, Ritalin, Ritalin SR, Ritalin LA, and generics), and lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse).

While you wouldn't deprive someone eyeglasses or hearing aids to be successful in the classroom, you wouldn't give them to students for whom they added no value. When I got glasses at age 5, I loaned them to my sister to help her "learn to read." That wasn't helpful and the results of this 2018 study highlight the misperceptions students have about the academic benefits of taking stimulants when not medically necessary.

Dr. Denise Pope is a co-founder of Challenge Success and a senior lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. She's published her concerns about academic pressures leading to cheating and abuse of study drugs. Particularly in rigorous academic environments, it's not uncommon for students to openly post on social media that they're looking for these drugs to gain an edge by improving alertness and/or pulling an all-nighter.

A friend's daughter proclaimed at college graduation that her proudest accomplishmentwas avoiding Adderall unlike "most" of her peers. Even more frightening is that this abuse appears to be most prevalent in high school.

What to discuss with students who don't have a prescription for stimulants:

  • It's illegal to have or use these medications. Even if someone gives, rather than sells, them to you, it's a crime to possess them.
  • People who take these medications get regular checkups with their physicians. Severe health consequences can emerge even from short-term use.
  • These medications can be addictive and particularly dangerous if ordered online.
  • There is no evidence they make you smarter. At best they just keep you awake, so pour yourself some more coffee like we used to do in the good old days - the 80s.

What to discuss with students who have a prescription for stimulants:

  • Your medication is a controlled substance and it's illegal to give or sell it to others. Radical candor isn't only for professional settings, so I told my son that giving, sharing or selling his medicine to someone else makes him a drug dealer. I also had him read this interview with a student arrested for selling his ADHD medication.
  • Medication must be kept in its original container and in a safe place to prevent theft. If they are still living at home, tell them you will be monitoring the number of pills each week.
  • For the same reasons your doctor has carefully monitored your health while taking the prescription, nobody should ever take it without a prescription. It's powerful and there are severe health risks if abused.

I'd like to thank Optum for sharing this helpful document that also includes signs of misuse including anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia, and reduced appetite. Please help me raise awareness with family, colleagues, and clients.

Continue the dialogue here or contact me directly at [email protected]