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Addy, the study buddy: The harms of unprescribed Adderall

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Wikimedia Commons | The Daily Wildcat Photo of Adderall in prescription bottle.

 “College is tough And sometimes you just neeD a little help. SenD me an email and we can talk about how we can get Your college career on the next level.”

Last semester a flier in the Harvill building with this text, with the capitalized letters spelling out “ADDY,” was forwarded to the University of Arizona Police Department by Rosanna Curti from the Dean of Students Office, according to the UAPD case report. The attachment was sent to Mickell Barney, a UAPD Crime Analyst, leading to the discovery of a non-UA affiliated individual selling Adderall, aka Addy, on campus. 

“We will follow-up on information we get, or if we have reason to believe that the case is going to have some impact on our community, we will definitely try to investigate that as far as we can,” said Sgt. Cindy Spasoff, Public Information Officer in Crime Prevention at UAPD.

Adderall is the brand name for a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, which are central nervous system stimulants that individuals with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) can be prescribed after extensive testing.

Thomas Shafer, Nurse Practitioner for the Campus Health Counseling and Psych Services Psychiatry Team, said “The diagnosis of ADHD is made with a psychiatric evaluation, psychological testing if indicated, fully medical and family history, collaborative information about symptoms (parent, teachers, etc.).” 

“All of these will help inform the evaluation and if diagnostic criteria for the disorder is fully met," Shafer said.

Phoebe Lowe, a junior studying Retail and Consumer Science, was initially prescribed Adderall in high school after being diagnosed with auditory processing disorder (ADP).

“When my friends would come over, my mom would take all the pills out of the bottle but one,” Lowe said. She explained that by temporarily relocating the prescription, her mom meant to keep Lowe’s friends from being tempted to ask for pills and Lowe from feeling pressured to share them.

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Having ADP means that the link between hearing information, processing and responding is slower, which can make academic and social settings more difficult. Medications like Adderall can help the brain function at a normal level, under the guidance of a medical professional.

Since her initial diagnosis, Lowe changed her prescription to Vyvanse, a similar medication to Adderall without some of the negative side-effects, which can include headaches, nausea, lack of appetite, and trouble sleeping.

“I feel like I’m slow and not myself,” Lowe said of when she doesn’t have her medication. “I feel self-conscious of what I say or do.”

However, the problem comes when users buy amphetamines to help them study or take a test. According to an article by Alan D. DeSantis, et. al. for the Journal of American College Health in 2008, the students they interviewed primarily took illegal ADHD medications “to stay awake to study.” That reason was given by 72 percent of their 585 subjects.

Other reasons included the ability to concentrate or memorize, to stay awake to have fun, for the high, suppress appetite, or to self-medicate ADHD.

Kaye Godbey, Project Coordinator of AOD/Poly-Substance Misuse and Abuse Prevention at Campus Health said “Being awake or being alert is not gonna help you know math.” 

The nature of Godbey’s position is to promote “healthy medication practices,” including the proper disposal of old medications, rather than sharing. A Campus Health sign reads “Sharing is not always caring” when it comes to medication.

“You actually have to have decent study skills to learn things," Godbey said. "You have to study. You can’t just learn history by taking an Adderall.”

Opioids aren’t the only issue facing the university. Negotiations were made to include poly-substance misuse, which refers to an addiction to three or more drugs combined, because the mixing of different substances can be even more dangerous.

“The funding for my position initially comes from opioid money set aside during the Obama-era legislation,” Godbey said. “There were two years of funding that came through the state. Then the state asked the university to address the opioid epidemic.”

According to the Health & Wellness Survey data since 2015, males are more likely to have taken stimulants not prescribed to them by a physician. Adderall is one medication to fall in that category.

Over the course of the last four years, it was found that seniors averaged the highest percentage of stimulant misuse over the course of a year. As each year of school progressed, the percentage of self-reported misuse increased.

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Lowe said that people illegally buying Adderall makes it much harder for her to get her medication. During the summer, she has to drive from Orange County, California to Yuma, Arizona in order to receive more medicine because doctors in California wouldn't fill an out-of-state prescription.

Adderall users with ADHD benefit from the effects, under medical observation, because it “normalizes the area of the brain that’s involved in attention and focus,” Shafer said. 

Amphetamines are safe to use in controlled situations, but can have harmful effects when taken recreationally, including the possibility of reliance or addiction.

“If taken recreationally, long-term effects include tolerance, addiction, cardiac abnormalities, loss of appetite, major and severe depression, anxiety, dental issues, among others,” Shafer said.

In addition to the side effects of taking unprescribed pharmaceutical Adderall, if Adderall is bought from a dealer, the effects could be deadly.

In December 2018, a UA student died due to overdose on fentanyl from drugs bought from two dealers living at the HUB, according to KVOA. On Jan. 30, the Tucson Police Department arrested and charged two individuals for selling the drugs.

“The deaths we’re seeing as it relates to opioids are people who think they’re getting a Ritalin, an Adderall, a Xanax, but they’re really getting tainted drugs that are coming from street dealers,” Godbey said.

Spasoff explained that some of these narcotics are made in places like Mexico and China in warehouses where they’re less concerned about the medicine and the amount and kind of chemicals going into the pills they’re making. They're more concerned about the money being made for selling them.

Spasoff said if you’re buying pills illegally, "really be cautious because we have a lot of overdose cases in the United States right now of people overdosing on prescription pills, thinking they were a certain pill and then it’s actually laced with fentanyl, and a small amount of fentanyl can kill you.”

According to the Health & Wellness surveys, less than a quarter of the self-reporting population misuses stimulants. We tend to think there’s a pill for every problem, but hard work and strong study habits free you from the dangers of addiction or more lethal consequences.


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