Note: The names D. Clarke, R. Adams and S. Landers are pseudonyms to protect those sources’ anonymity.
When it comes to study habits, students Hadley Pierce and D. Clarke consider themselves in the topical minority at the University of Richmond. Neither of them condones what he or she described as a school mentality in which prescription drugs such as Adderall, Vivance and Ritalin are paraded as miracle drugs, talked about and exchanged “as if it were candy” and could be attained on campus in as quick as a few minutes by simply sending a text message.
“I don’t like how it’s so casual,” Pierce said. “I had to go through an eight hour test to figure this out. Now, I know people who just look up online what they need to say, get in for medical testing and get out, and others who just pass it out to everybody.”
Pierce was prescribed in fifth grade after consistently calling out in class and forgetting her homework assignments. She started using her prescription medicine out of necessity because she couldn’t do her work without it, she said.
Clarke was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder in kindergarten for behavioral reasons, he said, though he continued to do well in school without taking any medication until college.
Clarke began taking Ritalin his junior year when he ran out of time on an accounting exam and instead of handing it in, he told the professor he was allowed to have more time. The teacher agreed to the terms provided that Clarke brought in evidence of the condition the following week.
“I ran straight to CAPS [Counseling and Psychological Services] after finishing the test,” Clarke said. “They asked me a lot of questions about paying attention and I just played it dumb, just like every other person does when they go in there.’”
Upon meeting with a CAPS representative and a Richmond Health Services doctor and presenting a confirmation slip from his kindergarten diagnosis, Clarke was prescribed 50 mg of Ritalin. He said he has used two pills since.
“It’s like having two cups of coffee at best,” Clarke said. “I really think for a lot of these students, it’s a placebo effect. You think you’re paying attention a lot more than you actually are.”
Clarke and Pierce both said they have always declined giving out any of their pills to friends. Providing the same drugs for people who were not prescribed them would “de-level the playing field” for Pierce, she said.
Students R. Adams and S. Landers don’t see a problem with the culture at Richmond, they said. Adams is prescribed Adderall, which he has willingly given to his friends. Landers has recently started using it, though he doesn’t have a prescription.
“I don’t think I necessarily need to have it,” Adams said. “It just changes my motivation levels and allows for the process to be less aggravating. People with ADD and ADHD can focus. It’s just a lot harder to be done.”
Adams usually gives out Adderall to his close friends once a week. For midterms and final exams he could receive up to ten requests in a week, he said. He said he typically wouldn’t charge, but if he did, it would be $5 a pill simply to contribute to his prescription refill.
The process is as easy as giving a pen to a friend, Adams said. Typically, somebody will text Adams, ask him if he has any Adderall left and ultimately come get it from him.
Landers said he recently began using Adderall, Vyvanse or Ritalin to manage certain stressful, time-scarce situations. He understands the risks of taking them and that people might see it as morally wrong, but the competitive advantages they provide are too strong to turn down, he said.
“It’s not will power or a lack of focus for me,” Landers said. “It’s when I only have a certain amount of time to finish certain assignments and have to get them done quickly.”
As for the lack of fairness for people like Pierce, Landers said: “Life’s tough. People deal with illnesses and deficiencies every day. I have one of my own. It’s just something we all have to deal with for certain things.”
Dean Dan Fabian, Substance Abuse Education Coordinator, said people like Landers don’t have any statistical backing to prove that the work they are doing is any better when on prescription drugs.
“There’s a perception out there [that these drugs help you do better academically], and we need to change that,” Fabian said. “It’s very hard because if somebody believes something is making them do better, all the research in the world won’t change their mind.”
It’s also becoming tougher for doctors to draw the line between who should be prescribed and who shouldn’t, Fabian said, because parents and children alike have gotten better at manipulating the system and giving the necessary answers.
“Students who do have it must be getting overprescribed,” Fabian said. “If somebody’s giving it away – and a lot of students do here – then that must mean they’re getting more than necessary.”
Political science professor Rick Mayes spent five years researching and writing a book with two other Richmond professors titled “Medicating Children: ADHD and Pediatric Mental Health.” The trend of students using the likes of Adderall will probably continue, Mayes said, but what is especially concerning is a potential tipping point.
“That would mean maybe one-third of students are using these pills and the other two-thirds aren’t,” Mayes said. “Eventually those two-thirds are going to say ‘God, I need to stay competitive.’ Conversely, maybe, who knows, we start drug testing our students and I have a cup [on]every third seat on exam day.”
Contact reporter Scott Himelein at firstname.lastname@example.org