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Prescription drug use on campus: issue or illusion?

You usually start to hear the whispers around midterms, and even louder before finals: “Hey, do you know where I can get some Adderall?”

Drug use is an unfortunate norm on university campuses around the country, from huge state schools to tiny private universities.

Case Western Reserve University is no exception, and prescription drug abuse or misuse is a problem on this campus for some students. However, it often goes unnoticed unless paired with alcohol abuse.

“[There are] not a lot of incident reports about it,” said Karl Rishe, assistant director of Residence Life for the First Year Experience.

Misuse of prescription drugs is usually uncovered when students who have been drinking are being examined by the Emergency Medical Services, because even if someone has only had a few drinks, the alcohol could have a dangerous reaction with the drugs.

There were 294 disciplinary referrals in 2010 for alcohol violations that occurred in CWRU campus housing, while there were only 16 for non-alcohol drug violations.

These numbers don’t mean that prescription drug abuse does not occur; there is ample opportunity for it in the high-stress environment students endure here. No matter what your major, everyone at CWRU experiences stress at a certain level. Unfortunately, one way students choose to cope with this stress is by taking stimulants, which they believe will increase their productivity.

An episode of “60 Minutes” that aired in 2010 investigated the use of Adderall and other stimulants among undergraduates, and all of the interview participants agreed it was a common occurrence.

“Everybody’s trying to get an edge, and if you can take a pill that will help you study all night to get that grade you need, I mean, why wouldn’t people do it?” one of the students on the show said.

According to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors’ survey of 2011, an average of 25 percent of students at a university of CWRU’s size take “psychotropic medications.”

Psychotropic drugs are those that alter the mind-state, and are prescribed for people who suffer from depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental illnesses.

Occurring to a 2009 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, full-time college students were twice as likely to take Adderall without a prescription as non-college students of the same age.

One way that prescription drug misuse, particularly of stimulants like Adderall, is being combatted on our campus is by an agreement between University Counseling Services and University Health Services. This agreement calls for students to undergo in-depth psychological testing before being given a prescription for any stimulant.

“This is one of our efforts to reduce the abuse of this kind of medication,” said Jes Sellers, licensed psychologist and director of University Counseling Services.

Another way UCS is trying to prevent drug abuse is via psychoeducation outreach, which informs the campus community about the negative effects of taking prescriptions not prescribed to the user.

As for people who are currently having issues with prescription drug abuse, “we welcome them into our [counseling] services,” said Sellers.

As of now there is no data on prescription drug misuse on our campus, but according to Sellers and others at UCS, it is in the works.

“I would have to believe it is a problem and does happen,” said Amy Salim, chemical dependency and substance abuse specialist at UCS, “but to what degree, I’m not sure. I hope to get accurate data on that next school year.”

Tim Sesler, a first-year student, said “I have [heard of people taking Adderall], but I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

Another first-year student, Jason Walsh, said he has friends at small liberal arts schools who claim that Adderall use there is “almost exclusively recreational.”

While CWRU may not be leading the pack in terms of undergraduate prescription drug misuse, it appears to be part of the herd.

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