For years, high school and college students have abused Adderall as an all-night study aid, putting themselves at an increased risk for heart attacks and seizures.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 6.5 percent of high school seniors have misused Adderall, a brand-name amphetamine salts-based drug prescribed for people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD and ADD).
“I hear about it every year,” said Rodney Ehli, an administrator at Lakeside-Milam Recovery Center. “Doesn’t matter what school I go to or what school district I’m in, I hear about it every year.”
Ehli has worked with substance abuse in several school districts including Federal Way, Kent, Seattle and Tacoma.
“The kids are using it to do school work,” he said. “There’s a huge population of people going in from high school to college who will use it for their college exams. So it’s a pretty well sought-after drug, especially for people who are trying to finish things in a short period of time.”
In addition to being used as a way to stay up long hours and concentrate on school work, the drug is also abused as a weight loss drug, or as a way to increase focus during sporting events by athletes.
Students who have prescriptions discover that they can exchange their Adderall for money or other drugs, Ehli said. Giving away or selling pharmaceutical drugs is a felony. It is also a felony to be in possession of the drugs without a prescription. Drugs like Adderall are now being monitored within the state of Washington.
“So when you go get a prescription, it goes in the database,” he said. “And if you’re going to multiple doctors, that won’t work anymore because you can get a certain allotment of pills per person, per month. So they’ve been cracking down on it more than they used to.”
In addition to legal consequences, there are also medical consequences to misusing Adderall.
For those diagnosed with ADD and ADHD, Adderall helps slow the person’s brain down, Ehli said. But for someone who does not have those disorders, the drug will have the opposite effect. Adderall can cause an increase in heart rate, a lack of sleep and a decrease in appetite, he said. Some who misuse the drug are at risk of heart attacks, seizures and hallucinations.
“Just like any drug, you can take it one time and end up dead,” he said.
The drug isn’t just abused by high school or college aged students.
“Sometimes at middle schools, I’ve seen kids just give it away,” Ehli said. “They don’t have a whole lot of knowledge about what it is, but there’s a lot of curiosity for some of these kids and they don’t have a problem sticking that pill in their body.”
Ehli said parents should become more aware of the issue and lock up their medicine cabinets.
“It’s a growing epidemic,” Ehli said. “It’s getting worse. And the parents probably don’t realize that this is going on.”
In an effort to prevent drug abuse among students, such as non-medical Adderall use, Federal Way Public Schools attempts to educate students about the risks through health classes.
“Any substance abuse of any kind is a community issue, not just a school issue. Schools are a reflection of our community,” said Diane Turner, spokeswoman for Federal Way schools. “Because of that, it’s very important we work together as a community with our local law enforcement, our health professionals, our health human service agencies, our clergy to make sure we’re supporting students and families.”