The Wrong Message

The College should penalize those who unfairly obtain ‘study drugs’

Barry Bonds is currently under investigation for allegedly perjuring himself during grand jury testimony that took place in 2003. Bonds ran into trouble when he denied that he was aware that Victor Conte, the Willy Wonka of designer steroids, had provided him with anything more than supplements—“flax seed oil”—to bulk up.

While cheating in baseball is rightly being scorned and receiving the attention it deserves, another brand of physician-prescribed cheating is all but ignored today. I’m talking about the cheating that takes place in the academic sphere under the guise of the learning disability—in particular that associated with Adderall.

Today, many physicians prescribe Adderall tablets as if they are as harmless as Jolly Ranchers. As a result, an influx of these pills make their way into the hands of enterprising youth, who in turn feed the flourishing black market for this drug on campuses—and increasingly, high schools—nationwide.

Almost everyone on a college campus knows at least one student with a prescription of Adderall, for legitimate reasons or otherwise, from whom they could illicitly purchase a couple pills to cope with that painful all-nighter.

Adderall provides young people with an amphetamine-like stimulant that can improve focus and mask symptoms of fatigue, providing an unfair advantage on exams far beyond what caffeine offers. I, for one, become very jealous of my Adderall abusing peers when I attempt to take an exam exhausted and bleary eyed, having not slept for 24 hours.

Aside from being unfair, it can also, like steroids, pose health problems to those that use it. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee recently voted in favor of putting warning labels on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) drugs such as Adderall akin to those on cigarette boxes, noting that these drugs increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and sudden death.

It is true that ADHD is a difficult disorder to diagnose. Informed patients can easily bluff their way into a diagnosis with a correct enactment of symptoms. And we still have no completely effective method to determine whether a person has ADHD or not. But incomplete knowledge cannot absolve us of the responsibility to preserve fair play on campus as well as to protect our students. If we do not know, we must still try to know.

This is also not to say that those genuinely suffering from ADHD receive an unfair advantage by being prescribed these medications. Properly prescribed, ADHD afflicted men and women find relief for a condition that makes studying and focusing in class inordinately difficult. Similarly, it is perfectly acceptable for a baseball player to, say, receive a cortisone injection in order to ease the pain of an injury and so play up to his full potential. It is the abuse of these drugs by non-ADHD students that is so troubling.

The most effective way to curb Adderall abuse would be for colleges to implement anti-doping policies and drug-test students prior to exams. Those who test positive and lack prescriptions would be suspended or expelled from school. While this measure may sound unnecessarily extreme and Big Brother-esque at face value, if it means curtailing unfair practices and preventing heart attacks and sudden deaths among students, it certainly seems worth the trouble.

But parents, too, must act. Many of the same people that so vehemently scorn Barry Bonds and Major League Baseball are encouraging the overmedication of their children with drugs like Adderall. These find a sense of worth vicariously through their children, instilling the competitive mentality that has, in large part, led students to commit these abuses.

The problem is that these parents are not willing to admit that their children are simply not smart enough to get accepted into the elite, Ivy-League Universities they dreamed about sending them to.

When President Bush declared in his State of the Union address some years ago that steroids in professional sports “Send the wrong message,” hundreds stood up and applauded in unison.

What he neglected to mention was that thousands of overzealous parents and physicians are sending this same wrong message to the youth of America every day.

Stephen C. Bartenstein ’08, a Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Lowell House.