More students using stimulant drugs for studies, Tampa group looks to combat problem on campus

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(WFLA) — The number of young people who use prescription stimulant medications to enhance mental focus continues to grow.

“This is the generation where we imitate everything,” Amanda Calle, a junior at the University of Tampa, said. “We see one person doing it, and we think it’s alright so we go ahead and do it as well.”

Calle isn’t talking about peer pressure to drink a beer or smoke marijuana. She’s referring to the growing trend of taking prescription stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin, used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder or narcolepsy, among other conditions, as performance-enhancing study drugs.

Non-medical use of stimulants doubled to 8.2 million people between 2006 and 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.

Stress is the most common reason students give for taking the pills.

“They feel like they can’t keep up. They feel like other people around them are doing better, and they’re striving for that ‘success’ we’re putting on them in society,” Addie Carothers, Wellness Coordinator at UT, said.

She points to College Health Assessment Data, which finds 23 percent of students report anxiety and 31 percent report stress that affects their school work. The same study found just 7 percent of students were actually diagnosed with ADHD.

Using someone else’s medication is the most common form of stimulant misuse among adolescents.

“There can be one person prescribed, and all the sudden everyone knows that one person has that medication, and they’re trying to buy it off of them. So, it’s pretty easy to get your hands on that,” Calle said.

But it’s also possible to buy pills like you would marijuana. In fact, a Tampa Bay area man in his thirties who sells both, and who agreed to be interviewed via text only, tells us he’s paid $20 per pill. He has a prescription from a local doctor that he fills through a Canadian pharmacy. Business is robust, with a steady stream of customers. Most of them are adults, but he says while he avoids selling pills to younger people, he has and will do it.

“They’re going to find a way to get it,” Ariana Wyatt, a junior at UT said. “You take (a stimulant) one time, then it turns into two, four, six times, and soon you’re taking it every day.”

She’s among a handful of students, that also includes Calle, who make up the group Rx Factor, which is dedicated to educating peers on the problem of prescription medication abuse on college campuses. Rx Factor is one of a number of health-focused initiatives that compose the school’s Live Well UT program. Rx Factor students encourage other peers to turn to natural stress-relief like yoga, and energy-inducing natural products like tea.

They also say parents need to recognize how big of a problem prescription medication abuse is.

“I don’t think parents are really aware of the dangers,” Calle said. “They know what it is and they’ve heard about it, but they don’t know how dangerous it is, and how popular it has become.”Some of the major symptoms of stimulant substance abuse include:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Problems in school, failure to complete homework
  • Change in activities or friends
  • Heightened attention, long periods of sleeplessness or not eating
  • Unusual behaviors, including secrecy and isolation, unexplained spending
  • Legal problems.

Physical consequences include:

  • Memory lapses, fatigue, and depression
  • Heart problems and seizures
  • Psychological difficulties including confusion and delusions
  • Unusual behaviors, including secrecy and isolation
  • Aggressiveness, irritability, mood swings
  • Hyperactivity, euphoria
  • Weight loss
  • Dilated pupils, dry mouth and nose

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