STORY BY MOLLY LAMOUREUX
Common problems shared among college students are the issues of focus and procrastination. With Drake students actively involved in classes, extra curriculars and clubs, Greek life, internships and more, their busy schedules may not have six hours specifically carved out to study for an econ exam.
Writing a research paper on molecular biology is no easy feat, either. Students do their best to keep up their 3.8 GPA, while still maintaining a social life, but end up exhausted, overwhelmed and out of time. What can be done to solve these problems?
Some students throw caution to the wind and reach for the “study drug:” Adderall.
While the drug was originally distributed to help people who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy, it is now a household name among college students who are pressured by deadlines and commitments.
Amphetamine is the primary acting drug in Adderall, which stimulates the brain, giving the user complete focus, an intense sense of motivation and a huge wave of energy.
The Drake Health Center on campus prescribes Adderall to students if they have documentation from their provider that they’ve been tested and diagnosed. Any students who seek an initial screening at the health center will be recommended to a psychiatrist in the area to get tested.
Janet Fink, family and nurse practitioner at Drake’s health center, cautions students’ use.
“The only thing I stress to students at Drake is safety,” Fink said. “We want their medication locked up because it is a controlled substance, we don’t want them abusing it (or) selling it.”
Many students handle Adderall in a more frivolous manner, either dealing the drug to peers or taking it to keep up with the everyday stresses of school, work, and social obligations.
Ben Verhasselt, a junior politics major at Drake, experienced the snares of Adderall first-handedly during his first year at Drake.
What started as seemingly innocent doses of the study drug became a life-threatening addiction within a year.
“I remember I loved it … I wrote a ten-page paper in four hours in the middle of the night and it was better than anything I had ever written,” he said. “From that point on, I was hooked.”
Verhasselt was addicted, but convinced himself that Adderall was something he needed to be prescribed. Not even being able to sit and read one page of a textbook, Verhasselt went to his doctor with his concerns.
“It was kind of scary how easily the doctor prescribed it to me,” Verhasselt said.
Verhasselt’s use only increased after his prescription, and his dependency grew. He described that while on the drug his body was “in the zone:” He didn’t need to eat or sleep, he could read faster, type faster and comprehend faster.
“(I would) crash in a nightmare-ish way”, he said as he further described coming down from the drug, realizing how incredibly tired and hungry he was. “Eating huge meals and sleeping 15 hours in between highs was the norm.”
Verhasselt was admitted to an addiction treatment facility in July of 2013. After dedicated rehabilitation and hard work, he is now 15 months sober and is in the middle of his junior year at Drake fulfilling his duties as Resident Assistant in Stalnaker Hall, among other activities.
Teri Fredregill, director of outpatient behavior at Mercy Behavioral Health Clinic in Des Moines, handles many different cases with patients struggling with substance abuse.
“Substance abuse and mental health (problems) often go together,” Fredregill said. She explained that Adderall abuse is often accompanied by co-occurring disorders, such as depression or anxiety. Because of this and other contributing factors, rehabilitation is individualized according to the patient. A typical treatment program before this individualization, consists of an individual therapist, group therapy, medication management, and after-care services like a social support network.
Even though the use of the drug without a prescription is illegal, dangerous, and potentially life threatening, many students risk their health in exchange for focus and energy. Because the drug is prescribed so leniently, there are students on campus who have it in their possession at no charge, because it is often paid by their parents insurance.
Verhasselt gives advice to anyone using or abusing Adderall, which can be applicable to any situation dealing with any sort of substance abuse.
“Be mindful of why you’re taking it and when you’re taking it,” Verhasselt said. “Things can change really quickly when you’re on a drug like that.”
If you or someone you know is dealing with substance abuse, contact Drake Public Safety, the Drake Health Center or Mercy Behavioral Health Center in Des Moines at 515-271-6111, or the National Hotline for Substance Abuse at 800-262-2463.