Last year, during finals week, a Georgetown student found himself simply overloaded with work and wearing out the energy from his usual caffeine fix.
So he made a choice familiar to a number of students at Georgetown. He went to meet a dealer a friend had referred him to, paid $30 and headed to Lauinger Library with two small pills in his pocket.
“I took one in the morning . and holed up in a cubicle all day until about midnight, only taking quick breaks for food,” the student, who wished to remain anonymous due to the illegal nature of this drug use, said. “It sounds kind of awful, but . I was able to write five pages of my research paper in about an hour.”
He said that the drug did not negatively affect the quality of his paper. Rather, he felt that his mental functioning was better off.
“Altogether that day I wrote 18 pages of my research paper, turned it in the next morning and ultimately got an A,” he said.
The two pills were Adderall, a prescription stimulant drug usually used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Under U.S. law, Adderall is classified a Schedule II drug; by taking it without a prescription, this student was risking prison time.
But that is a risk that some Georgetown students said they are willing to take. According to a student survey conducted last spring by Counseling and Psychiatric Services, less than 10 percent of Georgetown students had taken stimulants like Adderall without a prescription during the past year. CAPS declined to release a more specific figure.
Philip Meilman, the director of CAPS, said that this figure was lower than many students might think.
“Research has shown that college students nationwide, Georgetown included, consistently overestimate the use of alcohol and other drugs by their peers,” he said in an email to THE HOYA. “[This number stands] in contrast to the perception that such use is commonplace.”
A rate near 10 percent places Georgetown students above the national average rate of use of similar drugs by college students. In 2007, according to the Department of Health and Human Service’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.4 percent of full-time college students nationwide reported using drugs like Adderall the past year.
Unlike with most other drugs on campus, many students consume Adderall legally – namely students diagnosed with ADHD who are prescribed stimulant medications. Some students willingly distribute it to friends, whether as gifts or for a price; most feel occasional pressure to do so.
Patrick Kilcarr, director of the university’s Center for Personal Development within Health Education Services, has seen occasional problems with Adderall use during the years he has spent counseling and educating students about drug use.
“I don’t think it’s at epidemic level. I don’t think it’s something that all students are doing, . but it’s definitely there, and it’s evident,” he said.
Kilcarr has also seen students drawn toward dependence, just a step shy of addiction.
“It’s not like throwing a Pez in your mouth, and you just kind of carry on,” he said. “These are very powerful medications that have powerful effects on the nervous system.”
Adderall is a low-dose mixture of amphetamines – the same type of compound as the street drug methamphetamine, Kellar said.
“Don’t let the drug companies snow you. They’re selling you amphetamines – which is fine. It works for hyperactivity and a few other things. It’s a perfectly reasonable drug when it’s used appropriately,” he said.
Kilcarr sees the abuse of stimulants as an extreme example of a larger social problem.
“You go to the 7-Eleven and to the left and right of the cashier are all these 5-hour Energy drinks and all this other kind of stuff. It’s just pulsating through our culture – everybody’s busy, lots going on, and [you hope] it can just help you to manage all the crap on your plate.”
One sophomore diagnosed with ADHD, who requested anonymity due to concerns about more illegal solicitations from his peers, described the lengths students go to when seeking out the drug.
“Usually after I first tell people, or they find out . that I have ADHD, usually they’ll make a joke, `Hey, you want to sell me some?’ and usually they won’t mean it at the time,” he said.
“But the next time, when they have a test or an essay to write . they’ll ask [seriously]. . The reason why you usually don’t tell people in the first place is that you want to avoid this. You feel bad saying no, because these are your friends.”
Maddie McLennon (COL ’13), who has been prescribed Ritalin since the second semester of last year, said she is aware that some people would readily take her pills.
“When I leave my desk [in Lauinger Library], I’m more worried that people would steal my medication, if I had some in my backpack, than my laptop,” she said.
Not all students try to guard their prescriptions. One sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous because of her illegal use of Adderall, said that she’s always been able to find sources. She said that she takes the drug about 10 times a semester to help her with her schoolwork.
She first took the drug last year during final exams, after a friend offered her one. After that, the work got much easier.
“I concentrated, I worked. I studied for hours on end – eight, nine hours,” she said. “I thought I’d been getting Cs on everything else, and I aced my finals.”
“You can always find someone who’s willing to sell Adderall,” she said. “When I get it from my close friends, I don’t pay, but if they don’t have enough . I’ll try to buy. I used to pay $10 for one pill.”
She said she thought the drug did not give her an unfair advantage and did not endanger her health.
“I feel like Adderall’s open to everyone, so it’s not really cheating. . I really think everything in moderation’s okay.”
The abuse of Adderall is nothing new, according to Kenneth Kellar, professor of pharmacology at the Medical Center.
“The drug’s been around longer, but it’s been abused since the 1940s,” he said. “Hitler used it. The German Army used it. . Your parents’ generation – my generation – used it to study. You guys didn’t invent this.”
Ritalin, an ADHD drug that is also sold under the brand name Concerta, is not an amphetamine like Adderall, but it has similar effects.
“You take a drug like amphetamine and you can study better and focus more, and you feel good, you feel like you can beat the world,” Kellar said.
But Adderall does not come without drawbacks.
“The last time – it was like a week ago – I took some and I pulled an all-nighter, and around 7 a.m., I was trying to go to bed and I couldn’t,” the sophomore said. “My heart was palpitating, and I got so scared,” she said. “You always calm down, but then you’re so tired the next day. You’re so drowsy; you have a terrible down.”