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Miami students abuse prescription drugs as study aids

By Sarah Emery, For The Miami Student

Miami University students have many different study techniques. This includes the use and abuse of prescription stimulants like Adderall.

And while students report mixed feelings about the ethics of using such drugs for study purposes, the illegal use of prescription drugs at Miami can lead to disciplinary action from both the law, and Miami's Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution (OESCR).

According to a study by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids in 2014, 20 percent of college students reported abusing prescription drugs at least once.

In 2009, Miami participated in a Healthy Minds Study, an annual survey-based study examining mental health and related issues. The study surveyed about 350 Miami students. The results indicated that 18 percent of students are prescribed medication and 4 percent use psycho stimulants without a prescription.

According to one senior who wished to remain anonymous, the feeling of being overwhelmed and overworked is one factor that has led Miami students to take ADHD/ADD medication like Adderall without prescriptions.

"The two times I've used it, it was to accomplish a large amount of busy work and other responsibilities, and there weren't enough hours to do it. I was at the library at 7 a.m. and I was there truly all day. I got everything done," the student said. "It really annoys me, though, when students use it as a cheat sheet for exams, and they pass because they're just lazy."

In the state of Ohio, illegally taking drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta are considered felony offenses in the same class as cocaine. According to the Ohio Revised Code punishments for possessing less than the bulk amount of these stimulants, which depends on the strength of the tablets, can be up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,500.

At Miami, being caught without a prescription is addressed in the Drug Use section of the Code of Student Conduct. Kelly Ramsey, associate director of OESCR, said sanctions for this violation could range from an educational course to dismissal from the university.

Students on campus have mixed feelings about whether using prescription drugs to study is ethical.

In a 2014 study by the Harris Poll on behalf of the Coalition to Prevent ADHD Medication Misuse, researchers found that of 2,056 U.S. college students, 75 percent found using stimulant medications without a prescription unethical, 59 percent considered it academic dishonesty and 65 percent equated the misuse of ADHD stimulants to do schoolwork with athletes using steroids.

"I find it annoying because I think they're cheating the system," said junior Vani Rajkumar. "Many people use it, and they can focus better and study more, and that's not fair to the rest of us."

In contrast, 24 percent of students surveyed in the Harris Poll believed that it was fine to use prescription stimulants for schoolwork, and 48 percent believed students who use these drugs are doing what is necessary to get through college.

"I'm okay with people using these stimulants, as long as it's not abused. In the end, I know I'm still working harder and more effectively than those taking Adderall," said senior Kodhai Rajkumar. She said the number of her friends who have used prescription drugs has increased over the years.

Some students, however, use the same medication with a legal prescription because they have been diagnosed with a learning disorder.

First-year Leighton Kentwell was diagnosed with ADHD and is prescribed the generic version of Concerta, a stimulant that affects chemicals and nerves in the brain to assist in monitoring hyperactivity and impulse control. He said when he doesn't take his medication, he becomes antsy, hyperactive and unfocused.

"Doing homework without medication is very tough," Kentwell said. "I have to take my medication or I would not be successful at all."

He feels that using prescription drugs illegally to study is unfair to those who have learning disorders.

"I feel like people who take prescription drugs who don't have ADHD are doing a disservice to those of us who are actually diagnosed and are downgrading the disorder," Kentwell said. "They're capable of focusing already, so they're just enhancing their abilities, while I'm just trying to reach the same level to function at the same level as everyone else is already at."

In the survey by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, research showed older students, including upperclassmen and graduate students, are more likely to abuse prescription stimulants, sometimes because they feel more pressure to succeed at school and work, while also maintaining an active social life.

Data from Miami's 2009 CIRP Freshman Survey, an annual assessment of enrolled first-year students, showed that 88.8 percent of students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do "frequently" or "occasionally."

When the same students were surveyed again in 2013 with the CIRP College Senior Survey, 93.5 percent felt overwhelmed by the same standards.

"Students need help in learning how to manage their busy lifestyles effectively," said Josh Hersh, staff psychiatrist at Miami, during the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids study. He also said he believes that teaching effective study habits is key in preventing prescription drug abuse, since misuse often occurs when students need to "cram" for exams.

According to the Rinella Learning Center's website, Miami has specific documentation guidelines for students who are either already diagnosed with, or think they should be diagnosed with, learning disabilities. Students must go through a variety of aptitude, academic and behavior analyses in order to prove a disability.

The Rinella Learning Center also has a variety of options to help students who feel overwhelmed, including two-credit hour classes on study strategies, individual academic counseling sessions and student tutors for specific subjects.