Students abusing ADHD drugs
Prescription pills easy to get, youths, health workers
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.
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
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
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."
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
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
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."
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,"
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
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
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.