Academic journal article Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry

The ADHD Drug Abuse Crisis on American College Campuses

Academic journal article Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry

The ADHD Drug Abuse Crisis on American College Campuses

Article excerpt

Medications to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can increase students' ability to stay awake to cram for exams. Although popularly viewed as "academic steroids," there is no evidence that ADHD medications promote complex cognitive functioning or scholarship. To the contrary, compelling new evidence indicates that ADHD drug treatment is associated with deterioration in academic and social-emotional functioning. Yet, ADHD diagnosis and drug treatment have risen unabated for decades. Today, ADHD medications are so prevalent on college campuses that students falsely perceive these drugs as relatively benign and freely use them for nonmedical reasons, resulting in record numbers of adverse events and deaths. This article describes the nature of the ADHD drug abuse epidemic, rules some colleges have implemented to manage risk, and actions that any educational institution may consider to combat ADHD drug abuse and to promote student health and campus safety.

Keywords: attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder; methylphenidate; prescribed stimulant drugs; substance use disorders

In late 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an alarming rate of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis and treatment among American youth (Visser et al., 2013). Whether too few or too many people are being treated for ADHD has been a topic of public debate off and on for the past five decades. What's new is that the focus of the debate has shifted from concern about the social development of young children to the learning, health, and safety of college students.

Legally prescribed ADHD medications are highly addictive substances that are widely available on college campuses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA, 2011) maintains that these medications should be prescribed and dispensed "sparingly." Nonetheless, the use of ADHD drugs has become so commonplace that many students fail to appreciate the risks of misusing them, contributing to epidemic levels of prescription drug abuse (Watson & Arcona, 2014a). Students are using and abusing ADHD drugs for reasons as diverse as studying, weight loss, and partying. Consequently, since 2005, the United States has witnessed exponential increases in emergency room visits, overdoses, and suicides related to nonmedical use of ADHD drugs by college students and other young adults (Watson, Arcona, Antonuccio, & Healy, 2013).

Colleges and universities have responded to the ADHD drug crisis with a range of new campus rules, all carrying potential risk management and legal ramifications. New rules include forbidding college clinicians to diagnose ADHD (George Mason University) or to prescribe ADHD medications (College of William and Mary). Several institutions now require students who bring ADHD medications from home to sign a contract that they will not divert their medications (California State University, Fresno; Marist College; and The University of Alabama) or to sign a release allowing school officials to speak with parents to confirm medical histories and the veracity of reported symptoms (Marquette University). At least one school has incorporated ADHD drug abuse education into freshman orientation sessions (Clemson University), whereas another might start to require students to undergo behavioral therapy before getting their ADHD prescriptions refilled (George Washington University). Duke University recently took the bold step of declaring nonmedical use of ADHD drugs as a form of academic dishonesty. Schools that choose to maintain the status quo also face risk. Harvard University is currently being sued for malpractice by the parent of a student who received an ADHD diagnosis and stimulant prescription after one meeting with a clinical nurse specialist in 2007 (Schwarz, 2013a; Watson & Arcona, 2014b).

The purpose of this article is to raise awareness about the sort of issues that may affect an institution's liability with respect to the oversight of ADHD issues on campus, including diagnosis, treatment, and the diversion of prescription medications. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.