Students Torn Over “Study Drug” Usage
One evening during reading week in May 2012, Eva ’15* and Joseph ’15* were studying at Pi Café when Eva, procrastinating on the WesACB, stumbled across a post supposedly authored by the “Adderall Fairy.” The post’s title enthusiastically proclaimed, “Adderall fairy is back!!” and included clues: the location—Olin Library—and an obscure word. Intrigued, Eva and Joseph went to Olin and looked up the word in the library catalogue, which informed them that it was the name of a CD in the music library.
“I tried to look for it myself but realized I had to ask the person at the desk,” Eva said. “So we asked for the CD, and I think that made it pretty clear what we were there for. The guy was just like, ‘Enjoy!’ The pill was in the CD case.”
Neither Eva nor Joseph had ever used a study drug before. They had, however, experimented with recreational drugs and were curious about the effects of Adderall. They split the pill and proceeded to work the night away in an amphetamine-fueled frenzy.
“It could have been the placebo effect, but I feel like I was a lot more focused,” Joseph said. “I felt like the quality of my work was better. I was getting really good ideas, and I felt smarter.”
Joseph and Eva’s experience was no isolated incident. Though it was their first time taking Adderall, the use of such drugs is not uncommon at Wesleyan. In fact, a mere search of the word “Adderall” on the ACB is deemed “too broad,” by the website yielding more mentions of the drug than the it is capable of displaying.
However, it seems that the users of the drugs are not spending their highs answering surveys; according to Director of Health Education Tayna Purdy, the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) conducted in the spring did not receive enough responses to provide conclusive evidence of its broad use at Wesleyan.
“Our response rates were low at only 15 percent, and so we really cannot draw any conclusions from the data,” Purdy wrote in an email to The Argus. “But according to our NCHA results, 12.9 percent of students reported using stimulants that were not prescribed to them.”
Though these rates are not overwhelming, they do indicate that study drugs are not unheard of at Wesleyan. This is nothing new; the issue arose in 2010, when a group of concerned individuals felt that the misuse of stimulants constituted cheating and raised the issue with the administration. They hoped to have the prohibition of study drugs clearly stated in the Honor Code, but the administration decided that the rates were not high enough to warrant such actions.
“One group felt that the misuse of prescription drugs is illegal and should be prohibited as part of our code on alcohol and drug use,” explained Dean and Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley. “Another group felt like the misuse of certain prescription drugs as study aids was problematic from an Honor Code perspective.”
After much debate, the University decided to add the misuse of prescription drugs to the Code of Non-Academic Conduct, rather than the Honor Code.
“The prevalence seemed to be quite low at that point, so if that increases, then perhaps the issue will be revisited,” Whaley said. “We have not yet defined [taking stimulants] as cheating.”
The Code of Non-Academic Conduct currently reads:
“The possession, use, manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of illegal drugs or controlled substances by any member of the Wesleyan community. This includes the misuse or abuse of any medications prescribed by a physician to another individual.”
This means that any student found to have used study drugs illegally would go to the Student Judicial Board and face charges similar to those one might face for being caught using other prohibited drugs, rather than the charges for cheating on an exam or plagiarizing a paper. The use of stimulants, however, seems to occur far more often in academic contexts than social, unlike typical recreational drugs. Some students feel that their classmates taking non-prescribed medication like Adderall or Ritalin gives them an unfair advantage, and that the illicit usage of the substances constitutes cheating.
“People should only take medicine when they need it,” said Elizabeth Feldstein ’15. “Those medicines have an actual purpose for people who actually need them and should be reserved for them. If you set your mind to something, you should be able to get it done, but people who take Adderall without a prescription aren’t setting their minds to it, they’re setting a pill to it.”
To others, the issue is not always so black-and-white. Mary ’15*, who asked to remain anonymous, was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in third grade. She cannot focus enough to do work efficiently without taking Focalin. For Mary, taking Focalin allows her to focus at what is considered a “normal” level, whereas for individuals who are not diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, it elevates them to a so-called “superhuman” state of focus. She is unsure whether she considers it unfair for people to misuse the medication.
“I used to get really mad at the idea of people taking ADD drugs when they weren’t prescribed,” Mary said. “It seemed like a totally unfair advantage to me because they would be able to reach a level of concentration that would probably be impossible for me. But at the same time, I’m not totally sure that when I take [Focalin] it brings me to the same level of concentration as an average person trying to study. I think it makes me somewhat more focused than that.”
While Mary is ambivalent about people misusing study drugs for studying and writing papers, she does object to them abusing attention-enhancing drugs under test circumstances, when the question is not of the quality of the final product but of what one can accomplish in a set amount of time.
“If I take a test without Focalin it will be a disaster,” she said. “I probably won’t finish. I don’t think that’s true of people without ADD.”
Joseph and Eva, who both took Adderall again after first getting it from the Adderall Fairy, described its effects as comparable to a high dose of caffeine when consumed by an irregular drinker of caffeinated beverages—so where is the line? When an individual downs three shots of espresso before an exam, is he or she at a heightened mental state? When Mary is on Focalin, operating at perhaps a slightly higher level of focus than an average student, is she at an unfair advantage? How does that advantage differ from that of the student who takes a study drug without a prescription, the student with a photographic memory, or the student who has private tutors in every subject?
“I think the assumption is that we’re all at the same starting line, and someone takes Adderall and starts running miles ahead of everyone else,” Olivia Mason ’15 said. “But the idea that we’re all at the same level to begin with is really a false notion—we’re not. We all got here. We’re all smart, but some people are smarter than others.”
Unless every enrolled student were to respond honestly to a survey about his or her use of illicit study aids, the University could not determine just how widespread the problem is on campus. As things stand, the Code of Non-Academic Conduct classifies study drugs alongside recreational drugs and alcohol (the rules of which are flouted on a regular basis), deeming their abuse comparable to underage drinking, rather than as a matter of academic dishonesty.
*Names have been changed.