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Students abusing ADHD drugs

Prescription pills easy to get, youths, health workers say

May 8 2006, IndyStar.com by Staci Hupp

A classmate of the Rushville teenager's used the prescription drug Adderall to control attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Eric had no doctor's diagnosis, but he figured a pill could help him concentrate and ace his tests. So he took one. And liked it.

One pill turned into one a day. One pill a day turned into six. And Eric, a skinny, dimple-faced wrestler, became an Adderall addict before he was out of middle school.
"It makes you stay up and focus on everything," he said. "I depended on it to think for me."
Many of today's stressed-out, sleep-starved students are turning to prescription amphetamines such as Adderall for an edge, especially with final exams coming up this month, doctors and counselors say. Others pop the pills for a new high, with a lower risk of getting caught.
Nurses say the abuse reflects a wave of children so dependent upon pills that they've earned the title "Generation Rx." ADHD-related prescriptions swelled in the 1990s.
"We start children even at the kindergarten level on ADHD medications," said Carolyn Snyder, who heads the Indiana Association of School Nurses. "A long time ago, we didn't have those medications to use."

An Indiana University survey of school-age children last year found 7 percent of high school seniors admitted trying Ritalin without a doctor's order. National reports put the number closer to 10 percent. Studies of students at colleges have reported 16 percent or more had tried Ritalin.

Some Indiana doctors and police believe the numbers will climb. Doctors diagnose about 8 percent of school-age children with ADHD, according to a study last fall by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About half the children get medication.
For children without diagnosed attention problems, getting pills is as easy as asking a friend.
"It's a huge, huge problem here," said Bloomington therapist Beth York. "The rate of use skyrockets during finals."

Extra attention

IU and Purdue University health officials see up to five students a day for ADHD prescription requests.
Both schools ask for more proof of the illness, such as psychiatric evaluations, before doctors will write or fill prescriptions.
Indiana's two largest universities also have limited the number of times students can report "lost" pills before they're barred from refills. The rule is aimed at ADHD patients who sell or give away their medication.
The policy has backfired against patients whose prescription drugs have been stolen. York said an IU student who was a victim of theft during finals week last year now stashes pills in several places in case it happens again.
Stories of prescription drug abuse infiltrate high schools, too. High school students sprain their ankles, are prescribed painkillers and then trade their leftovers for Ritalin or other drugs.
Others fake ADHD symptoms so their family doctors will write prescriptions. Eric Cox says he raided his friends' medicine cabinets during sleepovers.
It often isn't until students are caught or suffer severe side effects that they go for help.
"What we see is when some kids come to us, we have to send them to the emergency room before we commit them because their blood pressure is so high," said Melanie Margiotta, an adolescent staff physician at Fairbanks, an Indianapolis drug treatment center.
The abundance of ADHD prescriptions has complicated efforts to monitor use of the drug. Snyder said school nurses don't always track prescriptions for ADHD because newer, one-a-day doses eliminate the need to dispense them at school.
More Indiana high schools are testing students for drug abuse, but urine screenings don't necessarily detect stimulants such as Adderall.
That leaves doctors, nurses and parents to keep an eye on children, said Carrie Whittaker, Eric's mother.
"What I never realized is how easy it is to get at school," Whittaker said. "It's out there, and nobody's paying attention."

Easily hidden

Eric says he first tried Adderall three years ago, at age 14.
He already was hooked on painkillers he borrowed from a classmate to dull the pain of a wrestling-related shoulder injury.
The painkiller threw off his concentration in classes. He says Adderall put him back on track.
Eric's addictions followed him to high school in Rushville, 30 miles southeast of Indianapolis. He says he never got pills from a doctor, but friends who did gave him bottles.
"It's just really easy," he said.
Eric stored his pills in sandwich bags that he stuffed into the barrel of his paintball gun, put inside deodorant bottles and hid in plastic storage tubs.
At his worst, Eric says, he was selling Adderall pills for $2 apiece and swallowing up to 10 pills a day. He sold his guitars to buy more pills.
"When I'd start coming down, I'd need to take more to get it back up," he said. "Sometimes it was like my heart was going to explode."
Eric's mood swings and weight loss weren't lost on his parents. Whittaker says she worried about her son but figured he was under pressure to cut weight for wrestling matches.
"I blamed myself for not seeing it earlier," Whittaker said. "He's the last person in town anybody ever would think" of as a drug addict.
Eric, now 17, says he finally went to his parents for help two months ago, when he couldn't sleep for three days straight and paranoia set in.