Finals week officially begins March 18 on Drexel University’s campus, and the days and weeks leading up to it pit many students against a bevy of papers, exams and group projects. After all, this is the university that asks students to “Live it 24/7,” where a term is just 10 weeks and the next one is right around the corner. So when coffee alone isn’t enough to get through the all-nighters and cram sessions, some students self-medicate. At Drexel, this often means Adderall.
The so-called “study buddy” is a prescribed psychostimulant designed to help those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder extend their focus without getting restless. In recent years, Adderall has made the rounds on college campuses across the nation, where recreational users take it as an academic performance enhancer.
“In my experience, everyone knows someone [who uses it] or has taken Adderall themselves,” Jordan Morton, a junior health care administration major, said. “Getting it is very easy, especially on a campus this size.”
Research suggests Morton’s statement is less conjecture and more a reality at schools around the country. A 2005 study out of The University of Maryland asked a panel of 26 local college students which substances were most readily available around campus. In this study, Adderall placed third, behind alcohol and marijuana, respectively.
Credit this popularity to the substance’s low cost (street value is approximately $5 per pill, depending on the dosage) and accessibility (anyone with a prescription is a potential dealer). Blaise Forcine, a pre-junior marketing major, explained how students go about getting their hands on the drug.
“If one person finds out a person who has a prescription, usually there will be mass quantities bought in bulk and distributed out,” he said. “People will just buy like 10 pills at a time and maybe keep four for themselves and then give six to their friends, who will give another two to their friends, who kind of find it that way.”
Of course, there are legal implications to this kind of exchange. Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance, as are cocaine and methamphetamine, and therefore it is a felony to sell the drug or to take it without a prescription.
But Adderall is not perceived by Drexel students to be as potentially dangerous as the other substances in its grouping.
“I’ve never considered it to be on par with totally banned substances such as cocaine,” Morton said. “I don’t necessarily see using Adderall as wrong. I would equate the wrongdoing to that of underage drinking, which I think many of us can admit to having done.”
John Watson, assistant director of the C.H.O.I.C.E.S. counseling center at Drexel, said students regard Adderall as having medicinal value and therefore don’t see it as dangerous.
“They see peers who are prescribed medication such as Adderall and use it with few negative consequences, and they get a sense that it is safe for students to use themselves, even without a prescription,” he said.
Such justifications, coupled with the desire to make the grade, keep students using the narcotic, which temporarily increases dopamine levels in the brain. The means of delivery also impact how the drug is processed.
“I remember freshman year during finals, I saw my floormates take Adderall, but they crushed it and snorted it so it would get to them faster,” Melika Riley, a pre-junior environmental engineering major, explained.
But the drug doesn’t come without side effects.
“I’ve known people who take it and then will claim that their mind will be racing everywhere and they can’t necessarily focus on reading a textbook or studying out of a book,” Forcine said. “They’ll take it, and even though they plan to study, will just go on Tumblr for like three hours or distract themselves with something else and focus on something that’s not school related.”
Adderall is addictive, and continued abuse bears the risk of dependence.
“I’ve definitely seen people get addicted to it, where they just start doing it all the time because they really like the way it feels. They get a definite high from it,” Forcine continued. “And I’ve also witnessed the lows the next day where they just feel really bad and really depressed.”
In 2012, 34.5 percent of college students said they had tried Adderall, according to statisticbrain.com. This figure includes both prescription holders and illegal users. But is it the only way for students to make it through finals?
“Honestly, I am not a fan of drug use to begin with, so I naturally do not think it is a good idea,” Victoria Sibalich, a junior design and merchandising major, said. “It could have the wrong effects on someone who is not prescribed it. I think that there are other options available.”
Watson was quick to offer some practical advice for students stressing over finals, emphasizing the importance of taking breaks and maintaining a healthy diet and sleep schedule.
“Get organized and take charge. Being unorganized or engaging in poor planning often leads to frustrating or crisis situations, which almost always leads to feeling stressed. Plan your time, make a schedule, and establish your priorities. Do this regularly until it becomes a productive habit. Take responsibility for your life. Be proactive. Problem solve and look for solutions rather than worrying,” he said.
Unfortunately, the issue at hand is not always procrastination, and the illegal use of Adderall on Drexel’s campus extends beyond that of a study aid. Forcine said some students crush and snort the substance at parties and even take advantage of one of its side effects, weight loss.
Possession of Adderall and similar drugs that have not been medically prescribed violates Drexel’s drug policy and can result in suspension, loss of University housing or expulsion. Incidents are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.