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Cheating in College with Study Drugs

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It’s unfortunate, but academic cheating is nothing new—even at the college level. Technological advances have made cheating easier than ever before, and plenty of students find nothing wrong with texting during exams, sharing homework or finding term papers online.

Between 2002 and 2005, Professor Donald McCabe of Rutgers University surveyed 80,000 students and 12,000 faculty members in the United States and Canada. Twenty-one percent of undergraduates admitted to cheating on exams at least once per year; 33 percent admitted to having obtained knowledge of a test prior to taking it. Half of the students admitted to copying homework or working with others when they were supposed to be working alone.

College Students Turning to Study Drugs to Concentrate

A growing number of college students are also turning to study drugs, or prescription medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. Ritalin and Adderall are prescribed to patients with attention deficit disorder to help them calm down and concentrate, yet students without attention disorders have found that the drugs give them the ability to study for incredibly long periods of time—hence the nickname study drugs.

A University of Texas at Austin web page reports that the illegal (nonmedical) use of Ritalin, Adderall and other similar prescription medications as study aids is a hot topic on U.S. college campuses.

ABC News / Primetime spoke with Dr. Eric Heiligenstein in 2005. Rialin and Adderall are “performance enhancing drugs, almost like academic steroids,” explained Heiligenstein, head of psychiatry for the University of Wisconsin health services. He also said that study drugs have a powerful effect on the central nervous system similar to the effects caused by speed. A normal dose of the drugs can last up to 24 hours.

Students Take ADHD Drugs without a Prescription to “Study Better”

Inside Higher Ed published information about a 2008 study published in Journal of Attention Disorders. Based on a Web survey of 3,407 students at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the study found that 8.9 percent of respondents had used ADHD drugs without a prescription while in college and that 5.4 percent had done so in the last six months.

Results showed that the main reason college students take drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall without a prescription is to help themselves study or do better academically and most of the students feel that the study drugs accomplish those goals.

Some students say it’s easy to get a prescription after lying during a consultation with a doctor and others purchase the pills on campus. "During finals time I’ve seen it being sold for like nine or 10 dollars for a pill because it’s just such a hot commodity and everybody wants it,” a student named Jessica told Primetime Live.

A student who called herself Maggie to protect her identity on television told the show, “It just really makes me feel confident and peaceful with my studies and helps me retain the information that I am learning,” she said.

Many Colleges Ignore the Study Drug Problem

Dr. Heiligenstein is worried by college students’ sense of normalcy around these drugs. It seems that there is little or no stigma attached to study drugs like Ritalin and Adderall because even though they require a prescription, they are legal and FDA-approved.

Colleges and universities are concerned about the abuse of prescription drugs, but mainly because of health reasons. Most schools do little about the problem because it would be difficult to prove that a student took the study drugs prior to a particular exam.

Wesleyan University Bans Misuse of Prescription Drugs

This semester, though, Wesleyan University administrators modified the Wesleyan student code of non-academic conduct to ban the misuse or abuse of prescription drugs because the activity violates the spirit of the student honor code.

Michael J. Whaley, Wesleyan’s vice president for student affairs, told Inside Higher Ed that several students have come to him with complaints about prescription drug misuse over the past few years.

Bradley Spahn, a senior at Wesleyan, was one of the students who complained to Whaley about the issue, claiming that the study drug culture at Wesleyan is basically one of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

He told the Los Angeles Times that nearly half of his class admitted to taking study drugs during a 24-hour take-home exam. Spahn said that students believe the pills will help them focus on the exam. “It seemed pretty obvious that taking drugs illegally to help you do better on an exam is cheating. I think it is just as serious as plagiarism.”

Some Students See Nothing Wrong with Study Drugs

On the other side of the coin, people—including students who use study drugs regularly—see nothing wrong with a little added “help.”

David Leibow, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry in Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, said that study aids can’t make people better students, adding that “They should probably ban coffee, studying too much or any other edge somebody tries to get without being more proficient or more accomplished.”


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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