Editorial, Opinion

EDIT: Adderall – Friend or foe? Mostly the latter

Adderall is an amphetamine-based medication intended to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D. But the high levels of mental focus that the medicine provides has led growing numbers of young adults — with college students, in particular, the drug is especially popular — to fake A.D.H.D. symptoms in order to obtain prescriptions. They do this for help studying for exams or finishing papers. They also use it as a diet pill, since it decreases or eliminates the appetite.

But they don’t realize that the drug can be highly addictive, and that side effects can include serious psychological risks.

Saturday, The New York Times published the story of Richard Fee, the athletic and personable college class president and aspiring medical student from North Carolina who committed suicide (in 2009) after his Adderall prescription ran out. Fee had become addicted to the drug, unable to operate without it.

His untimely death highlights what the Times deemed the widespread failings in the system through which five million Americans take medication for A.D.H.D. It has become too easy for individuals “lacking concentration” to obtain a prescription for focus-enhancing drugs when, in actuality, they do not require them. The Times reported that doctors “tend to skip established diagnostic procedures, renew prescriptions reflexively and spend too little time with patients to accurately monitor side effects.” As a result, nearly 14 million monthly prescriptions for the condition were written for Americans ages 20 to 39 in 2011, which, according to the Times, is two and a half times the 5.6 million just four years before.

The numbers should be a signal that the drug has become too easy to obtain.

But it should be noted, also, that if people seeking Adderall have no desire to visit the doctor and take the all-too-easy exam, they can purchase the pills from their friends. It’s estimated that between eight and 35 percent of college students take stimulant pills to enhance school performance, according to the Times. On college campuses where the demand to focus is ever-rampant, pill-swapping is nonchalant, prevalent, and consequently hard to control.

It’s true that Adderall greatly helps in increasing levels of productivity. And it does what it’s intended to do: it can markedly improve the lives of children and others with the disorder it’s designed to treat. But for those without real A.D.H.D. — for those who suffer what everyone suffers: difficulty sitting in one place for too long, with one long paper, and one cup of coffee, for example — it is possible, as we see with the case of Fee, for an attachment to the drug to have catastrophic results.

True, Fee is a tragic and hopefully singular case. Most students who experiment with Adderall are unlikely to over-abuse it, and will hopefully shake the habit by the time their demanding studies are over. But the fact that doctors are loosely prescribing a drug that can have dangerous side effects is worrisome. Fee claimed that his doctor “wouldn’t prescribe [him] something that isn’t safe,” according to the Times. Doctors must realize that patients who “lack concentration” do not necessarily need medication — they might just have to turn off their iPhones and log off of BuzzFeed.

It’s important that people become aware of the dangers of taking stimulant drugs so that they can learn to be careful when using them. Hopefully, they will avoid the dangers by steering clear of the drug entirely. We all have difficulty concentrating; to be naturally high-functioning has always required effort. Making drugs do our work for us is an unhealthy habit.

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