In a world where everything students do can be quantified and analyzed through the grades they recieve and standardized tests are regularly used to assess a student’s progress, it is no wonder that students are feeling so much pressure to succeed that some equate it with drowning in the workload.
Although this trend pushes students towards excellence, it can have several harmful effects as well. Some students who are faced with a seemingly impossible load of classes and extracurriculars, both of which the student is repeatedly told are necessary for college, are turning to study drugs in order to keep themselves afloat. Medications such as Adderall and Ritalin are among those most commonly abused.
“I was prescribed drugs way back in 4th grade for my ADD, even though I stopped using in 6th grade,” said “Frank” who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But now I usually take them every once in a while to help me study for important test or project.”
While students try prescription drugs for the first time every day, it is nothing new to Substance Abuse Counselor Julia Burgos.
“People are always looking for something to change their body chemistry and make them feel different. We do it in a benign way when we eat a piece of chocolate,” said Burgos. “But when you do it to get high you’re risking too much.”
Burgos is currently working at AHS part-time, splitting her days between here and JEB Stuart HS. She often counsels both students and parents on drug use and makes herself available for confidential discussions in her cafeteria office.
For students that don’t suffer from these disorders, the very same medications can turn into lethal killers in the form of drugs.
“I know of quite a few students who misuse it,” said junior “Nate”, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They do it because it easily raises their grades, and it’s easy to get. They either snort it, or just swallow it, and it makes them feel really good,” he added.
Such misuse is extremely prevalent among teens today. “Some of my friends used to take, like, 200mgs of Adderall and stay up for at least 2-3 days. People also use it for weight loss, since it speeds up your metabolism, and it definitely makes you think food is repulsive, so you don’t eat for days,” Nate said.
Many people feel that the pressures of school and work are the main factors that lead to prescription drug abuse.“I know people that [take prescription drugs] to help them focus better, because they have jobs and they have to keep up with their grades too,” said senior Huong Nguyen.
“Taking ADD/ADHD med[icine]s do help you concentrate like crazy so that you can work non-stop, therefore allowing you to do your work and retain information. I guess this would lead to better grades, and therefore success. Honestly, if I could, I would take Ritalin just so that I could stay focused in school,” senior Jose Candia said.
“Frank” has experienced these effects as well. “I would study all through the night, take the test the next morning and then stay up the next night too.”
According to Burgos, getting high is one of the major reasons that teenagers abuse prescription drugs in general.
“There’s this new thing called a ‘pharm party’ where kids all get together and raid their parent’s medicine cabinets,” Burgos said. “They put all the pills together in a bowl and take them with alcohol, so that they don’t know what they’re taking or what it is going to do to them.”
While this may seem like a dumb idea, teenagers in general are getting much smarter about their drug use. Teenagers can buy experimental drugs online, or look up what dose of a prescription medication they should take to feel a high without any serious negative health effects.
The danger in this, however, is that the teens feel a sense of false security when they are taking these drugs.
“I don’t think it’s possible to overdose on these, and I only use these drugs about once or twice a month so it doesn’t matter,” said “Frank”.
The companies that produce these medications are very clear about the potential risks associated with it. At the end of every commercial for a prescription drug, all of the potential side effects are listed, giving the patient an idea of what could go wrong. When teenagers take these drugs illegally, they do not have the advantage of a doctor looking over their shoulders to keep them safe, making accidental overdose far more likely.
“Painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin are by far the most commonly abused prescription drugs,” Burgos said. “It’s not a particular preference, kids are just taking whatever they can find, and these kinds of drugs are easy to get at.”
This statistic was supported by the Partnership for a Drug Free America, who published a report in 2007, stating that while ten percent of teenagers have abused prescription study drugs, 20 percent have abused prescription pain relievers.
For most students, this is not a serious issue. Most develop their own strategies for dealing with school stress and peer pressure, such as using healthy supplements, like fish oil and ginseng.