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ADHD drugs could be coffee 2.0 on college campuses

For some college students ADHD-study drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are treated like coffee 2.0. (AP Photo/File)

Instead of coffee, studies show one in three students that have either been diagnosed with ADHD or have gotten their hands on the prescription aid for the disorder are popping pills to get them through late night study sessions.

For some, especially those college students, it’s become coffee 2.0.

For Slate writer Will Oremus it’s not just a little boost. He’s been diagnosed with ADHD and he needs to meet deadlines. So Oremus takes Concerta, a long-acting and less addictive version of Ritalin.

“The problem with ADHD,” Oremus told KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank, “you tune out even when you’re super interested in stuff.”

When he’s not on Concerta, he’s late, he forgets about and misses deadlines and meetings. Even when he’s truly interested in what someone is saying, he still can’t focus.

“Everyone gets bored sometimes, has trouble focusing sometimes. Someone who is sitting through a really boring lecture or a show that they don’t care about is going to find themselves tuning out. Everybody is going to have problems when it’s 2 a.m. and they’re trying to do that boring work.”

It becomes a real problem when teens and young adults turn to the drugs used to treat ADHD without a prescription.

We don’t know about the side effects a non-ADHD person may experience, said Oremus.

“I wouldn’t want to recommend anyone go out and do this, it’s illegal, there could very well be dangers to it,” said Oremus. “That said, I think it’s fairly clear from what I understand, people without ADHD could, in theory, benefit from this in some circumstances.”

And it is illegal – Adderall is classified in the same category as cocaine and methamphetamine. There are risks – particularly for people with pre-existing heart conditions. Knowing that there are dangers both criminal and to one’s health, Oremus said he’s sure there are a lot of parents out there, wondering , ‘is my kid, on a college campus, popping Adderall?’

Oremus learned the one-in-three students will use ADHD medications illicitly while he was researching for the piece, “The New Stimulus Package” for Slate. Increasingly, students report that it’s OK to take this stuff, even if they don’t have a prescription.

It’s lead to some media backlash. Oremus said we’re seeing all sorts of alarming stories about an Adderall “epidemic,” ADHD-study drugs, what they’re doing to society, and the risks.

“I think as a society we’re of two minds about this right now: the people who are taking this think it’s fine, but their parents are worried that it’s a disaster. I would guess that it’s somewhere in between, but I’m not the doctor. I would recommend anyone consult with a doctor if they’re trying to make personal decisions for themselves and their family.”

Oremus recalled a recent New York Times profile about a promising college graduate. He apparently became addicted to Adderall. He was also using other drugs, but Oremus said The Times story didn’t emphasize that part. He ended up with some very serious mental conditions and eventually committed suicide.

“I think it’s pretty clear by now, that is an extremely rare outcome from the use of an ADHD drug – that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It doesn’t mean it’s not real. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be worried as a parent. I think you should.”

Instead of worrying about the risks of an ADHD drug on your college kid, or just letting it go because something like the New York Times story is a rare occurrence, Oremus suggested finding some middle ground.

“Anyone who takes a stimulant of any kind should be aware of the risks.”

For Oremus, the decision to take any drug would come down to making sure the benefits outweigh the potential risks. And for someone who has been diagnosed with ADHD – they do. He took his dose of Concerta when he woke up this morning.

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