Dangers of prescription drug use discussed

David Dausey, Ph.D., a Mercyhurst alumnus who is now a professor of public health and director of the Institute for Public Health at Mercyhurst College, was recently quoted in the Erie Times-News regarding student abuse of Adderall and Ritalin in order to cram for exams.

Adderall and Ritalin are prescription drugs used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Dausey stated in the article that the untested presumption is that “these drugs that help kids with ADHD will also enable non-ADHD students focus better for exams, but that has never been proven.”

Dausey explained that “a lot of the research that’s been done out there on the prevalence of this practice has been done within big university settings, so how much of this actually happens at smaller liberal arts colleges…who knows, and that’s really part of the challenge here.”

According to Dausey, Ritalin and Adderall are drugs people can acquire more easily than illicit drugs and can sometimes be found in some homes or friend’s medicine cabinets.

“This is something that is sort of done in secret, and we don’t have any idea how much or little of it is actually being done,” Dausey said.

Dausey explained the use of Ritalin and Adderall as dangerous because they can cause many problems, such as cardiovascular health issues.

The drugs, “can cause seizures, heart attacks, high blood pressure, stroke and even death. Clearly, we need to be concerned about students who are doing this,” he said.

Despite the concern, there is no proof of students at Mercyhurst taking these drugs.

“There is a chance that none of this is happening at Mercyhurst at all,” said Dausey. “I’m personally unaware of any abuse cases, but that could well be because I’ve technically only been a full-time faculty member since Sept. 1.”

Ironically, Dausey said he hopes that media attention of the issue won’t have the reverse effect in that students, after hearing about the drugs, will want to partake in Ritalin or Adderall use for studying purposes.

Mercyhurst senior Jaclyn Ropelewski, who has a 4.0 grade point average explained her study habits.

“Studying for important tests can be a daunting task and for some students it involves last minute cramming and pulling all-nighters. However, I like to study for 1-2 hours every day about a week before the test,” she said.

She said that “following this study pattern has worked very well for me, and I never feel pressured to cram all night before a test.”

She also commented on students using prescription drugs and admitted that she has heard about the Ritalin and Adderall use by students wishing to stay up and study.

“I personally have never heard of this sort of drug abuse at Mercyhurst, but I am sure it happens at universities all across the country. If students really feel the need to stay up all night and study, whatever happened to good old coffee?”

One Mercyhurst student said he uses Adderall because “it keeps me awake. I tend to put everything off until the last minute, and I’d rather be awake to get my stuff done. It’s like coffee.”

The student, who asked that his name not be used, said he doesn’t use Adderall more than once a term, if that, and mainly around finals time. “I know like 40 people who either use Adderall for studying or recreationally. I haven’t noticed a rise in the usage of Adderall from my freshman year though,” he said.

Social networks may also have a big role in the spread of prescription drug abuse.

Dausey said that “the problem is that abuse spreads through social networks as an OK thing to do, and just because someone else reacts to a drug a certain way doesn’t mean you are going to react the same way. This casual spread through social network is dangerous.”

Dausey gave his best advice. He said, “If somebody gives you a pill and tells you to take it… don’t. Don’t assume anything when it comes to those types of things. If you’re going to pull an all-nighter, stick to coffee.”

The best thing to do “is to keep up with things and don’t cram, or if you’re having problems, go to the health center and talk to Judy Smith and her staff,” he said.

Executive Director of Wellness Judy Smith, Ph.D., said, “While to the best of my knowledge based on what we see here at the Counseling Center and Health Center, I do not think that abuse of Ritalin or Adderall is prevalent on this campus. Educating people about the substances and their potential for misuse is always a good thing.”