By Caitlin Doermer

College students aren’t just using prescription drugs to “get high.” They also want to improve concentration on their schoolwork.

“Pharmaceutical use by college students over the last 10 years has increased dramatically,” said Tim Carden, agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Roanoke. “In some cases, 300, 400 percent over the previous time frame.”

At Washington and Lee University, the annual CORE Alcohol and Other Drugs survey indicates that about 80 percent of students have not used stimulants.

Listen to interviews: Stimulants and Students

But some students question the survey’s findings because they say they believe prescription drug abuse is more widespread.

“There are people who consistently take it, even if they’re not prescribed, for academic purposes or for recreational stuff,” a senior psychology major said. “Most people I know have taken it or tried it at least once.”

Angela Williams, a W&L sophomore who works at Rockbridge Area Community Services, said she was in a meeting a few weeks ago where nearly every student either admitted using Adderall or knew someone who had.

This fall, Williams wrote a public service announcement for RACS that discussed the dangerous side effects of Adderall and Ritalin.

She said she’s worried her peers may not realize the consequences of taking these drugs.

Some college students use prescription drugs such as Adderall to stay awake to study–or party. (Photo by Eleanor Kennedy)

“There are long-term effects, even if you just do it once or twice,” she said. “It’s unnecessarily changing your body in negative ways—your heart rate beating faster, your blood pressure raising—we’re in our 20s, we don’t need to be having blood pressure problems now.”

Jan Kaufman, director of health promotion at W&L, said stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are the most abused prescription drugs on campus. But she said she considers alcohol to be the campus’ biggest drug problem.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Adderall and Ritalin are commonly used to treat attention deficit disorder. The National Institute on Drug Abuse said that not only are these drugs addictive, they can also increase blood pressure, speed up the heart rate and cause euphoria.

A W&L pre-med student, who also did not want her name used, said she takes Adderall and Ritalin without a prescription when she needs to focus. She usually gets these drugs from friends with prescription.

In recent years, many colleges have had reports of Adderall and Ritalin being stolen, said Mike Young, director of W&L campus police. At W&L, there was a rash of reports three years ago, but they stopped after Young sent an e-mail warning students to lock up their prescription medication.

“Usually it was from the residence halls,” he said. “But there’s not much you can do about something that disappears. Drugs can be used and immediately they’re gone.”

Lexington police Capt. A.M. “Bucky” Miller said the problem can also be hard to detect because students don’t report these types of thefts.

“Colleges have this thing where, ‘I don’t want to get my college friend in trouble,’” he said. “The person who thinks they’re missing needs to report it.”

These students aren’t necessarily taking these drugs to abuse them, said Rebecca Textor, prevention services program manager for RACS. Some just want to stay up a little later to finish their work.

“It’s not just the kids that are the big party types that are abusing prescription drugs,” she said.

But Carden said there’s never a good reason to abuse drugs.

“These are not 12-year-olds,” he said. “These are educated individuals who, quite frankly, should know better.”