Students abusing 'Smart Drugs' to keep grades up

young studentsFor years, students pulling all-nighters have gulped coffee to stay awake. But now growing numbers are popping pills -- and not to party.

CBS 2's Medical Editor Mary Ann Childers reports it's to help them study. We have hidden the faces, and changed the names and voices of students we talked with about smart drugs.

Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin are widely used to treat children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. They are also being abused by tens of thousands of students who don't have ADHD, but who, like college freshmen Ashley and Jason, want an academic edge.

Both say they began taking Adderall in high school.

"I prefer the extended release, because that would keep me going for a good eight hours, and then I could work all day," Ashley said.

"When I'm studying on it I can concentrate for hours," said Jason.

Many ADHD drugs are stimulants, some are similar to amphetamines or speed. Students tell us they are as common on campus as marijuana. And used just as casually.

Students can find these drugs online. Some say they buy them from dealers. Others just ask friends who have a prescription.

"Pretty much every family has someone in the family taking these drugs," said Ashley.

And many times parents are pushing doctors to provide them for otherwise healthy kids.

"They want it, they want the pill. My neighbor's on it and his grades went from a "C" average to "As," said Dr. Satish Charo, an Arlington Heights pediatrician.

Dr. Charo responded to a recent survey by New Jersey-based marketing company HCD Research. He is among the 67 percent of physicians who said parents wanted the drugs to help their kids get better grades. The average physician had 11 requests last year.

And some parents won't take no for an answer.

"There are parents who are frustrated and they're going to keep doctor-searching until they find the doctor who will give them what they want, and they might find one. I mean that's the truth, but it won't be me," said Charo.

These powerful drugs have risks including addiction, insomnia, hallucinations, weight loss, elevated heart rate and high blood pressure.

"I wouldn't eat much and I would just tremble so badly," Ashley said of her experience.

Recently the FDA added stronger warnings to Adderall, describing the risk of sudden death, especially for those with undiagnosed heart conditions.

"You're in college, you're on your own. The last thing in the world that you think about is that taking this drug that makes you more alert to study might kill you," said Dr. Steven Nissen of the American College of Cardiology.

Psychologists say without skills to cope with competition, these pills can become a dangerous dependency.

"So, then, psychologically, they say, I have to take this because if I don't I won't do well," said psychologist Chris Stout of Timberline Knolls.

Ashley is unusual; she got treatment for abuse of Adderall and other drugs, and started college drug-free. But it's a difficult when the grades aren't as good, and drugs are everywhere.

"...That's hard because I know where I could get them, but I haven't," she said.

Not one student CBS 2 talked with thought they were abusing anything. No one knows how widespread this abuse is. One estimate from the International Narcotics Control Board puts it at 10 percent of American teens. But many people suspect it's much higher than that.

Every teenager we talked with told us these drugs are everywhere.

Copyright © 2006