An exam looms at the end of your weekly calendar, menacing in scope and importance. You need to get an A to pass the class; if you don't, it may set you back in your undergraduate career, costing you more tuition and an extra semester outside the full-time work force.
Just when you begin to let the stress overwhelm you, a friend offers an innocuous pill; 20 mg of Adderall for $3.
Does success now come in orange bottles?
Students across the country are making the decision to pop the pill at increasing rates, and UT is no different.
Attention deficit disorder medications like Adderall and Vyvanse are sweeping across college campuses as students push themselves harder and faster.
Frazier Long, a junior in math and Spanish who has ADHD and a prescription for Adderall XR and Adderall, said exam time can be demanding beyond the classroom.
"Well, I don't sell it," he said. "But usually on an exam day, about three or four people might ask me to sell it to them."
The trend is no recent phenomenon; back in 2006, a study conducted at the University of Kentucky, 34 percent of surveyed students said they had used ADHD medications illegally.
Unlike most other illegal substances, which are generally taken for social or entertainment proposes, Adderall and Vyvanse seem to attract students focused on studying.
"Adderall is really easy to find," said one UT student, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "People even have their own preferences as to what they like better.
Everyone I am friends with uses it. It is passed out in groups when we're in the library."
Earlier this year, the Journal of Medical Internet Research published a paper titled "Tweaking and Tweeting: Exploring Twitter for Nonmedical Use of a Psychostimulant Drug (Adderall) Among College Students."
Lead researcher Dr. Carl Hanson and his team found that 213,633 tweets mentioning the term Adderall were sent out from November 29, 2011 to May 31, 2012.
After controlling for potential product-advertisers, the study found 132,099 unique user accounts that tweeted about Adderall.
The East Tennessee region ranked 10th in the nation for Adderall related tweets.
In the report's discussion section, the researchers suggest that the willingness to tweet about illegal drug abuse may prove insightful to the social norms.
"Social norms theory suggests that individual behavior (eg, drug use) is influenced by individual perceptions of what is perceived as "normal" or "typical," the report explains. "Also in this regard, even tweets that are sarcastic, joking, or simply restating song lyrics, are relevant in their misrepresentations because of their impact on social norms."
WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?
POSSESSION OR TRADING:
- Tennessee Code Annotated 39-17-418 says that knowingly possessing or casually exchanging a controlled substance is a Class A misdemeanor.
- First and second convictions are punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine up to $2,500, or both. In addition to the fine and prison time, the defendant will be required to attend a drug offender school, perform community service work, or both.
- Third and subsequent convictions are class E felonies and incur a fine up to $3,000 and at least one year in prison, or both.
- Tennessee Code Annotated 39-17-401 says that selling a Schedule II substance is a Class C felony, punishable by at least 3 years and no more than 15 years in prison; in addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed $10,000.
HOW EASY IS IT TO GET PRESCRIBED?
Dr. Ed Smith, a psychiatrist in the Student Health Services building who has worked at UT for 21 years, explained the nearly 2-month long process of acquiring an Adderall prescription through the university. The process was implemented two years ago. First, a student who thinks he or she may have ADHD must pass a screening test, administered by the Counseling Center or Health Center. If the doctor considers ADHD a reasonable possibility, the patient is then referred to one of several locations that carry out psychological evaluations. Smith said these evaluations can cost between $150 and $300 dollars and require intelligence tests, questionnaires, computerized tests of focus and occasionally family interviews.
From passing through screening to receiving an evaluation can take two to six weeks. And if the evaluation suggests the patient as a candidate for Adderall or other amphetamines, meeting with a health professional to obtain a prescription can take another two to four weeks.
The UT process is rigorous, no doubt, but Smith acknowledged that some doctors do not require as much leg work. He has seen it first hand in the health records of previously diagnosed students who have come to get a prescription filled.
"They'll come in and I'll say, 'Okay, let's get records from your doctor,'" he said. "And the records from the doctor are basically, 'Patient says they can't concentrate, let's try Adderall.' "I'd say that's no evaluation whatsoever."
Is it dangerous?
National media has scrutinized ADHD medications in recent months, and publications ranging from the 'Today Show' to the New York Times have mentioned the potential psychosis and depression the drug can incur.
But despite its Food and Drug Administration classification as a Section II controlled substance, Smith did not seem to think it was as life-threatening as its fellow class-mates, cocaine and Oxycontin.
"I think in general it's not that dangerous, unless maybe you have a heart condition that you didn't know about," Smith said. "From a life or death standpoint, probably alcohol is more dangerous."
Smith said safe usage depends on dosage. He generally starts patients at 10 mg prescriptions, and admitted to harboring concerns for the students who buy their medication on the street.
"I think what usually happens is they start directly at 20 mg," he said. "Even if I thought that was the right dosage, I would start lower. If you start at 20, your heart's going to race, you're going to get sweaty, shaky, you might even feel more scattered."
Smith also suggested it was dangerous in other ways, advising students with prescriptions not to tell their friends. He said theft was a real threat and advised against storing pills in a predictable location such as a medicine cabinet.
The difference between prescription ADHD medication and street drugs, such as Speed, lies in the different time courses.
"Street drugs do this thing where they get in your system in a couple seconds and back out in a couple minutes," Smith said, "and then you crash."
Prescribed medication, on the other hand, takes closer to 20 minutes to enter the bloodstream and can last for several hours. The come-down, according to Smith, is much more gradual.
"Some people have a crash where they feel sorta tired or grouchy as it wears off," Smith said, "Particularly if they haven't eaten."
"I would say well more than half of my friends use Adderall or Vyvanse at some point during the year. A lot of times it's not when you'd expect, either, like just around exam time. Almost everyone uses it then, it seems like. But with my friends it seems like after they use it one time they're really likely to use it again anytime studying gets too hard or they have too many assignments.
I think that's why so many people use it, because workload is unpredictable and everybody has those days when they have so much work it's actually impossible to do all of it." – ut rising sophomore speaking under conditions of anonymity.
The Daily Beacon set up an exclusive interview with a UT student who sells ADHD medication to other students. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, will be referred to as A. for the duration of the article.
A. acquired an Adderall prescription after visiting a psychologist for anxiety problems. The visit uncovered a deeper issue of attention deficit disorder, and the psychologist advised seeking prescription for ADHD medication. A. said the method of determining that prescription was alarming.
"The doctor said, 'just tell me what you want,'" A. said. The resulting prescription calls for three 30 mg pills a day, but A. said that trying such a high dosage made sleeping impossible for two days straight.
The resulting excess in pills was an opportunity A. could not resist.
"I made over $240 bucks in one day," our source told us. "So I do it for the money. My copay is only $5, so the profit margin is sky high."
The decision to sell Adderall, a Class II drug, is an illegal one and could potentially lead to felony charges. A. admitted that the thought of prison time is daunting. In order to minimize risk, A. does not sell to any unknown numbers. A. also tries to be as safe as possible by seeking background information on any clients.
"I try and ask people, 'as long as you don't have a heart condition,'" A. said. "I mean this is 30 mg. If they've never taken it before, and they pop a 30, they get a high like they've never had before. And then the crash? It makes you sick."
Despite the efforts to screen clients, A. said six or seven fellow students might ask for the drugs on a normal school day. The prices are equivalent to a grande Starbucks coffee; 15 mg Adderalls cost $3, and the $30 mg pills cost either $5 or $6, depending on the client.
"I'm a business[person], so if it's somebody that buys a lot from me or is buying in bulk I'll cut a deal," A. said. "Money makes the world go around. It's hard, especially when I don't take all of them, not to make a buck."
When asked whether a specific crowd sought the medication, A. said clientele is diverse.
"Some of the people who buy from me are surprising," A. said. "They know you have it, so they come to you real shy. If I didn't delete my texts, I'd have so many that say 'hey..., you got any addy? How much?'
The most desired pill is the Adderall XR, which is commonly referred to as an "instant."
"That immediate rush you get when you take an instant for the first time ... I remember that," A. said.
What pills are you popping?
Adderall: Adderall is an amphetamine and works by increasing energy, concentration and motivation. It is typically used for intermediate periods of 6-8 hours. The going rate for a bottle of 60 20 mg pills at the UT Pharmacy is $72, or a little more than $1/pill.
Vyvanse: Vyvanse is an amphetamine, digested primarily in the blood, that lasts much longer than Adderall and is considered less addictive. It is recommended for 8-12 hour periods, and costs $150 at the UT Pharmacy for a bottle of 30 20 mg pills.
Ritalin: Ritalin is a methylphenidate that was originally introduced in the 70s and 80s. It is only diagnosed for 3-4 hour periods, and its going rate is $65 for a 30 day supply of 20 mg tabs.