(Editor’s note: subject’s last name has been withheld by request.)
Ryan describes himself as a good student with a high grade-point average at the University of Florida. He studies for his courses late into the night, gets two or three hours of sleep and gets out of bed early to start the cycle again each day.
With the end of the fall semester and exams quickly approaching, Ryan finds it increasingly difficult to concentrate on his textbooks and complete his work late at night.
Ryan is part of a growing group of college students around the country who illegally use prescription drugs like Adderall to help them excel in the classroom.
“It makes it a whole lot easier … to jump into your studying,” he said.
Another male student said “it’s really easy” to get the drugs on campus, adding that classmates can have access to them within 30 minutes if they want.
Not all students illegally use prescription drugs to perform in class, but Joan Scully, the substance abuse coordinator at UF’s Counseling and Wellness Center, has noticed a significant increase in the incidence of substance abuse among students. The most prevalent are stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin , and Scully is concerned that most students don’t understand the dangers of using illegal prescriptions.
“The real issue with stimulants is that they are addictive … and the side effects for stimulants can be very significant,” she said.
A study published by National Household Survey of Drug Use and Health indicated about one in four college students between the ages 18 and 20 have taken prescription drugs for non-medical use at least once. Full-time college students ages 18 to 22 are twice as likely to use stimulants for non-medical reasons as part-time students or peers who aren’t enrolled. The Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Violence Prevention at the Educational Development Center in Washington, D.C., said those trends are on the rise.
Possession of controlled substances without a prescription is a felony. According to the UF Police Department, the maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
Scully hopes students make safer choices, but said the Counseling and Wellness Center can assist in recoveries from prescription abuse. The center offers a new rehabilitation program, Back on Track, which lasts four to six months and includes drug testing, educational modules and counseling.
“I think students feel compelled to use whatever is in their grasp to do well,” Scully said.
Sarah Samuels contributed audio reporting. George Pappas wrote this story online.