Moments after taking the small blue and white pill, Nick said he felt more focused and determined to complete his work.
The first time Brian took the pill he was in the library. Once it kicked in, he said he was able to study all night for a test.
Brian and Nick, who asked that their last names not be used, took Vyvanse. Nick has a prescription for the drug, which is often prescribed to help people diagnosed with attention deficit disorder focus. But Brian is among a sizable number of college students who use prescription stimulants to bolster their studying, even through they do not have prescription.
“I just feel like I focus better,” Nick said. “I hate to take it, but I feel like it really helps.”
Researchers at the University of Kentucky have studied the abuse of stimulants in times of high academic stress. In these studies, 34 percent of students surveyed admitted to the illegal use of stimulants.
In addition to Vyvanse, Adderall is another ADD drug commonly abused by students despite potential side effects such as rapid heart rate and insomnia.
Nick said he sometimes feels light-headed, but continues to use the drug because he achieves his goal every time.
ADDICTION AND EMERGENCY ROOM VISITS
Dr. Bezalel Dantz of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago specializes in psychology and internal medicine. Dantz said Vyvanse and Adderall release dopamine and norepinephrine into the body. These neurotransmitters help the brain focus.
“There are many side effects that come with these kinds of prescription drugs,” Dantz said. “It raises blood pressure, decreases appetite and can cause rapid heart rate, anxiety, insomnia, addiction and tremors.”
The drugs can also act as an appetite suppressor. Russ Harrison, of the Texas Volunteers Center, said people sometimes take them in order to control weight.
“A lot of people take it for the feeling,” said Jill Rolater, a nurse with the Valley Hope Drug Rehabilitation Center in Grapevine. “And the side effects, well, I think they’re aware of the side effects, but just don’t care at the time.”
Dantz said taking the drug has essentially the same effects as when adrenaline enters the body.
“There have been cases of sudden death while on the drug due to arrhythmia, which is abnormal heartbeat,” Dantz said.
In those cases, Dantz said, the user usually had some sort of prior heart disease.
“While taking the drug, blood pressure should be measured to make sure the heart is OK,” Dantz said. “If you have heart issues and take it, it can be really deadly.”
Students interviewed at TCU said it is not difficult to obtain these types of drugs, whether legally or illegally.
Nick said he told his doctor he was having problems focusing, and that the doctor wrote him a prescription after he took two tests.
“They didn’t take long,” he said. “It was pretty easy.”
Students without prescriptions also said it is not difficult to acquire the pills.
Taylor Bentley, a senior strategic communication major, said a lot of her friends use ADD drugs.
“I would say 50 percent of my friends take it,” she said.
She said her friends take the drugs primarily to help them study, but that some of them have also taken it recreationally on occasion.
Brian said he first took the drugs after he was approached in the library by another student who told him the pills would help him focus.
On-campus dealers include people with valid prescriptions.
“It’s all about connections,” said a junior business major, who wished to remain anonymous. He said he sells his pills and does not worry about getting caught.
“I sell to pretty much everyone who asks for it,” he said.
He said it is not uncommon for people to approach him and inquire about drug prices, even when he is just walking around on campus.
“I use some, I sell some and I get refills,” he said. “It’s that easy. You grow and develop sort of like a network of contacts.”
He said the price depends on the dosage, but he sells his 70mg Vyvanse for around $7 per pill.
“I’m just one person, and I sell it to quite a few people. I know other people do the same thing,” he said.
He said people really do think it helps, and he never has any issue selling pills. He said he sells more pills than he takes and sees it as a convenient way to quickly raise some extra cash.
Frank Calhoon, a pharmacist at the Brown-Lupton Health Center, estimated that he sees about 20 new prescriptions for the treatment of ADD and ADHD per week.
“The medicine is prescribed by a physician and we carry and dispense it,” he said.
Calhoon said he is aware that such drugs are often abused but has not heard of it happening on campus.
“There are two ways to get prescribed [at TCU],” Calhoon said. “The counseling center and the health center.”
Calhoon said dosages of these drugs depend on tolerance.
“Vyvanse comes in 20mg and works for some people,” he said. “At the middle of the road there’s 50mg Vyvanse and a 70mg high for Vyvanse.”
Calhoon said Adderall is prescribed in amounts ranging from 5mg to 20mg.
“There’s a wide range of dosages, but it’s individual dosing for the individual involved,” Calhoon said.
Nick said he has prescriptions for three different dosages of Vyvanse.
“I take the 30 when I only need to focus for a couple hours,” he said. “The 50 is for about half the day and the 70 is when I’m in a real ‘crank it out’ mode.”
Lt. Ramiro Abad of the TCU Police said officers are aware of the drug but do not run into issues with it too frequently.
“[The drug policy] is covered in the code of conduct,” he said. “If we run into a student selling, we’ll confiscate the drugs and refer that student to Campus Life for sanctions.”