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Study finds that 17 percent of college students misuse ADHD drugs

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College life can be stressful, especially with the pressure building to excel in classes, extracurriculars and jobs. But sometimes, this stress causes students to look for a quick fix, even if it is not good for their health.

A recent study from the University of South Carolina has shown that 17 percent of college students misuse drugs prescribed to people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Those drugs can include Ritalin and Adderall, which are psychostimulants and considered controlled substances.

“There are some common reasons and then there are some not so common reasons,” said Ryan Patel, psychiatrist in the Office of Student Life Counseling and Consultation Service. “The most common reason is they think it might help them study and stay awake longer to study or finish a project or something like that. Ultimately, that can backfire but that might be the reason why somebody might do that.”

The study also found that most of the misused drugs came from friends who are prescribed the drugs for ADHD or ADD.

“Other instances where people will use something like this is in the setting of parties or something like that and then the drug happens to be around,” Patel said.

Patel added that the misuse of the drugs might cause unintended changes in physical and mental states.

“Immediate consequences of the drugs are the person can become combative, paranoid, psychotic, develop a heart condition or anxiety,” he said.

Aside from the physical consequences of misusing these drugs, there are legal implications as well. Since they are considered controlled substances, there are consequences to misusing them depending on the severity.

“If you’re taking it when you’re not supposed to, or taking more than you should, the immediate consequences are medical. Instead of being able to sit focused, you’re actually more anxious. You get agitated, combative. In extreme cases, you get paranoid, psychotic, hallucinations,” Patel said.

Among the Ohio State student organizations oriented toward pharmaceuticals is Generation Rx. Members of the organization work in subcommittees to do presentations, programs and drug take-back days, which are events that allow individuals to safely dispose of medicine they no longer need.

“What we do is spread awareness of the dangers of drug misuse and abuse,” Ethan Kuszmaul, chairman of the Generation Rx collaborative, said. “Everyone, no matter what age demographic you’re in, can be exposed to medication safety issues, whether that’s just like improperly taking medication or just when they’re not being used properly, they’re being abused, like overdosing on them.”

Kuszmaul said he works mostly with teen programs in middle schools and high schools, but the programs focused more on college-aged students are geared more toward freshmen.

For college students, the group does a skit in which they act out the first scene and have students determine what happened first. They target freshmen more because it’s their first time away from their parents and they’re seeing a lot of pressure, Kuszmaul said.

Another nonprofit organization, Narcotics Anonymous, holds meetings in Columbus. NA is an organization for recovering addicts and teaches its members to be drug-free and how to recover from their addictions, Jarrod Grossman, speaker for Narcotics Anonymous, said.

According to a survey conducted and published in 2013 in the NA Way Magazine, 12 percent of NA members are 21-30 years old, and one percent of members are under 20 years old.

Additionally, according to the same survey, 57 percent of members are men and 43 percent are female. Six percent list their employment status as being a student and 35 percent of members said they had obtained at least a high school or secondary school degree.

More information regarding Narcotics Anonymous meeting locations and times can be found on the organization’s website.

Correction: May 15

An earlier version of this story stated Ryan Patel is a psychologist in the Office of Student Life Counseling and Consultation Service, when in fact Ryan Patel is a psychiatrist in the Office of Student Life Counseling and Consultation Service.

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