By Alia Wilson
About one-third of undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz are prescribed behavior-altering drugs for depression, anti-anxiety, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to Craig Reinarman, professor of Sociology at UCSC and drug-policy expert.
The growing tradition of students using—and often abusing—drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall to better concentrate or gain more energy, has everyone from sociologists to students questioning what the underlying causes for the drugs’ use is.
Reinarman believes that the reason behind the trend in possible use of Ritalin sans prescriptions is due to what critic Richard DeGrandpre, author of Ritalin Nation, has labeled as “rapid-fire culture.”
According to Reinarman, today’s culture bombards people with more and more kinds of stimulation—whether in
television, movies, advertisements, computer games, iPods, or video games.
“To me this is the soil in which ADHD grows,” Reinarman said. “When the solution is to think this is an individual pathology and to treat it with a psychoactive drug you miss the whole part about where it’s coming from. Its cultural and structural sources get camouflaged by the pill.”
Because some of the patients prescribed these drugs do not necessarily need them, they are passing them along to others for a profit.
According to the Greater Dallas Council on Alcoholic and Drug Abuse website, Ritalin ranks in the top 10 most frequently reported controlled pharmaceuticals stolen from licensed handlers.
Jane Bogart, coordinator of UCSC Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP), feels it is hard to determine how many students use Ritalin due to many people being able to get it without a prescription.
“You can’t really know when students are doing that unless you ask them and they tell you,” Bogart wrote in an email to City on a Hill Press (CHP). “It’s not really visible the way drinking and smoking are.”
Reinarman believes that attention should be put on the pharmaceuticals that are administering Ritalin rather than students using the drug without a prescription.
“The real problem of Ritalin abuse is not the small minority of students who will take a gram for an exam but rather the promiscuous prescribing that’s done to make millions of American young people more manageable,” Reinarman said.
Ritalin is a mild central nervous system stimulant that activates the arousal system in the brain stem and cortex, in effect producing increased alertness. There is still no scientific proof as to whether a person can be physiologically proven to have ADHD.
As prescription drugs that are stimulants in a class with amphetamines, Ritalin and Adderall have a variety of side effects, including dizziness, blurred vision, insomnia, toxic psychosis, increased heart rate and blood pressure, tremors, headaches, diarrhea, or constipation, impotence, and/or change in sex drive.
Mimi*, a third-year UCSC literature major who asked to remain anonymous, told CHP she had tried taking Adderall to help her stay awake to study for tests but did not like the experience because of such side effects.
“I found that I didn’t like it very much because for the extra amount of time it allowed me to study, it would end up giving me headaches and I would just crash after,” she said.
She explained that she had acquired the Adderall from her brother who had indirectly acquired it from a person who has ADHD, but does not like the effects of the drug. He continues to keep his prescription however, and sells about 30 milligrams at a time for $7.
According to Jillian, a first-year student, the drug does drain the body of a lot of energy after use and she has even experienced a sore jaw the next day from grinding her teeth as a side effect. Typically Jillian acquires the drug from people who do have ADHD, or people who have faked ADHD specifically to get the drug to sell it on the market.
“The first time I did it was for the SATs. It was a shock because I didn’t know it was going to be that strong,” said Jillian who continues to take the drug at parties. “I ended up not getting a good score, but I liked it.”