Editorial: Just say no to study drugs

(UWire) Last week The Chronicle reported on a 2007 study conducted among students at Duke and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro that revealed an alarming rate of unprescribed ADHD medication use among undergraduates.

Nine percent of respondents admitted to having used ADHD medications without a prescription since they started college. Five percent reported use within the past six months. Rates of unprescribed use increased dramatically the longer students had been at college.

The growing popularity of ‘study drugs’ at schools like Duke is at once generally known and truly disturbing.

What’s more, although most students either take unprescribed Adderall or Ritalin or know people who do, concrete numbers of student use were unknown. This study represents the first empirical evidence that records this trend at Duke, and so it is important to consider the real weight of the figures it makes public.

Three questions present themselves. First, is the use of unprescribed ADHD medications to study a form of cheating? Second, is such use harmful to the undergraduate experience of a student at Duke? Third, can any action be taken to mitigate this rising trend? In short, the answer to all three questions is affirmative.

Taking ADHD medication without a medical diagnosis and a prescription is not only illegal. It is also a morally reprehensible means to get ahead in class. Like other forms of academic dishonesty, this behavior gives its users an unfair advantage over others. Although it is far easier to conceal and harder to detect, unprescribed use of Adderall is as dishonest as plagiarism and cheating on an exam.

Second, the deception involved in this self-medication undermines the spirit of cooperation and healthy competition that defines a vibrant academic community. The use of study drugs accustoms a student to a cycle of procrastination, desperation and cramming with the secret help of a strong stimulant.

An unchecked culture of study drugs only exacerbates the real academic pressures that exist in any competitive university. It also replaces a culture of learning with an environment in which getting the task done in as little time as possible is the only focus.

And on the level of the individual student, this is a self-destructive habit with numerous negative health effects. For the rest of your life, will you reach for a pill before every major assignment?

For these reasons, abuse of ADHD medications for academic purposes should be designated in the University judicial code as a form of cheating. By codifying this in University judicial policy, our generation’s newest form of academic dishonesty will take its rightful place alongside plagiarism, cheating and lying.

It should be clear that this column does not mean to condemn students who truly need these drugs, take them on a regular schedule and have a prescription to use them. For many, ADHD medications are a medical innovation that have helped to level the playing field. (By contrast, abuse of ADHD medication attempts to manipulate and surpass this playing field.)

College campuses across the nation have witnessed a rising trend of unprescribed study drug use with alarming nonchalance. The University must take steps to formally condemn this behavior in a general effort to dissuade it. We do not want the abuse of drugs to become even more of a part of campus culture than it already is. Inaction is not an option.

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