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Video: ‘Smart drug’ abuse plagues college campuses

  1. Closed captioning of: ‘Smart drug’ abuse plagues college campuses

    >>> back at 7:43. this morning on "today investigates" the potentially dangerous drug being abused by college students. "today" correspondent amy robach is here with a hidden camera investigation.

    >> reporter: we warn our children about the dangers of drugs and drinking, especially as they go to college but a different kind of drug is an epidemic on campuses and we found students were taking it not to get high but to get better grades. we are inside the library at one of america's top universities where right here in the stacks --

    >> how much?

    >> reporter: a drug deal is about to go down.

    >> i can sell four today.

    >> reporter: the drug for sale, one of the most popular with college kids nationwide. the attention deficit pill adderall .

    >> it's highly addictive. when you play with addictive substances you get burned.

    >> reporter: for years it's been prescribed as the go-to drug for kids with adhd, increasing attention span and focus by boosting dopamine levels in the brain. our investigation found many college students are abusinging adderall buying and taking it illegally without a prescription.

    >> when i'm an adderall and i'm looking at the textbook. i forget everything else around me.

    >> it's given me the boost to work nonstop for ten hours a day.

    >> reporter: jenny and mike, not their real names, are college students at the top of their class, thanks, they say, to adderall , better known as campus as the smart drug or study buddies. one university found over half of the seniors took it to increase their grades.

    >> baseball players take steroids to be the best. students take adderall .

    >> reporter: it's an academic steroid?

    >> steroids for school.

    >> reporter: and students say it is a necessity to handle the load of papers, exams and cram sessions.

    >> if everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't i get the advantage?

    >> reporter: of all your friends, no one has expressed feared like, yikes, this isn't my prescription, maybe i shouldn't take it?

    >> no. they want to do well in school.

    >> reporter: getting it without a prescription is a felony. we found scoring a stash is as easy as a trip to the school library . we sent a "today" show intern to the library.

    >> do you know anyone that's here that has adderall ?

    >> reporter: it took her less than 30 seconds to find a student selling it.

    >> how much?

    >> $5.

    >> reporter: watch as he takes us to show her the pills. we said we were out of cash so she gave us a free tutorial on how to get our own prescription.

    >> i guarantee you with half the symptoms you can google. it's in their interest to prescribe it to you because you have to go back once a month, check in and give them money.

    >> i went to a doctor and told them i couldn't focus. by the end i walked out with a prescription.

    >> reporter: it was that easy?

    >> incredibly easy, yeah.

    >> reporter: experts say getting good grades with adderall may not be as easy as they think.

    >> does it make kids smarter?

    >> no.

    >> reporter: dr. walcott is from the national institute on drug abuse . she said it stimulates areas of the brain to help focus and stay awake.

    >> in some instances this type of drug can hurt you. for example, when people want to do creative or i imaginative thinking.

    >> reporter: creative writing , essays, painting could be negatively impacted by taking it?

    >> this is correct.

    >> reporter: in some kids adderall can have a dark side . it's a schedule ii narcotic as dangerous as cocaine or meth.

    >> for all intents and purposes it's speed. you are putting something in your brain to make you think you're okay when you're not. next thing you know you'll be spinning out of control.

    >> reporter: that's what happened to ali , a college freshman , an honor student struggling to keep up with school. a friend gave her am adderall .

    >> you become dependent. you use it one night to study for a test like i did. next thing you know you're using it every night to study.

    >> reporter: within weeks ali was addicted, buying and taking several pills a day with devastating side effects . mood swings, insomnia, panic attacks and depression. soon her grades began to slip.

    >> it snuck up on me. i went from being on an academic scholarship to being on academic probation within six months to being asked to withdraw from the university after a year because of adderall .

    >> reporter: now in recovery, ali said her family had no idea. experts worry parents may look the other way, as long as their kids do well in school.

    >> it's like a don't ask, don't tell thing. they don't want to know. they're paying for the report card.

    >> reporter: if they get the desired results, don't tell me how you did it.

    >> don't tell me how you did it.

    >> experts say 1 in 10 kid wills become addicted and side effects include psychosis, stroke and even death. never take it unless it is prescribed by a doctor. the risks aren't worth it.

    >> and kids that learned how to fake the symptoms and get the prescription is a wake-up call for doctors as well. at least reputable ones.

    >> drug experts say the drug has been overprescribed and that's contributing to the epidemic and the fact that students feel they are taking a vitamin. they think it's safe. parents need to get involved and say this is dangerous, don't do it.

    >> amy, thank you so much.

By
TODAY contributor
updated 5/17/2011 7:33:09 AM ET 2011-05-17T11:33:09

At colleges across America, students are becoming addicted to a popular prescription drug — not because they’re trying to get high, but because they hope to get smarter. The drug, Adderall, is normally prescribed for kids with attention deficit disorder. But some college kids are taking the medication because it helps them focus and pull all-nighters.

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One ‘A’ student at one of the nation’s top tier colleges explained the appeal of the pills kids call “study buddies.”

“When I’m on Adderall and I’m looking at the textbook I can forget about everything else around me,” she told NBC News’ Amy Robach, in a report aired on TODAY. “I figured if everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I get the advantage?”

Another student, “Mike,” who asked that his real name be withheld, elaborated. “It’s given me the boost to work non-stop for 10 hours a day,” he explained. “Baseball players take steroids to be the best and students take Adderall to be the best. It’s steroids for school.”

Related: Statement from Shire regarding Adderall abuse

Parents accustomed to warning their kids about the dangers of alcohol and stimulants like cocaine may have been caught off guard by the growing prevalence of prescription medication use among college students trying score good grades. While Adderall is considered safe when taken as prescribed by a doctor, experts say it can be very addictive.

“It’s a highly addictive substance and when you play with addictive substances, you ultimately get burned,” Stephen Odom, a drug abuse counselor at Sober Living by the Sea, told Robach. “For all intents and purposes, Adderall is speed. You’re putting something in your body that’s gonna make you think you’re OK when you’re not. And the next thing you know, you’re gonna be spinning out of control.”

That’s what happened to a freshman honor student named Aly. Struggling to keep up with her schoolwork, she gratefully took the “smart pill” offered by a friend. Within weeks she became addicted, buying several pills a day.

“You become dependent on it, because you’ll use it one night to study for a test like I did and the next thing you know, you’re using it every night to study for a test,” she told Robach.

Soon Aly was suffering all sorts of unexpected effects: mood swings, insomnia, panic attacks, depression. Her grades spiraled down. It all took a toll on her.

“It snuck up on me,” she told Robach. “I went from being on an academic scholarship at a great university to being on academic probation within six months, to being asked to withdraw from that university after a year. All because of Adderall.”

Addiction isn’t the only possible fallout from “smart pills.” While they can help students focus for hours on end, they can get in the way of other cognitive skills.

“In some instances these types of drugs can hurt you,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug  Abuse. “For example, when people want to do creative or imaginative things.”

The same drugs that can improve focus can inhibit flights of imagination, which may make it more difficult to write creatively, Volkow explained to Robach.

So, just how big of a problem is this?

As part of a hidden camera investigation, a TODAY intern visited the library at one of the nation’s top colleges, and it didn’t take long to score some pills.

Just 30 seconds after walking into the library, the intern hit pay dirt with one of the students.

“Do you know anyone here that I could get Adderall from?” the intern asked.

“Yeah, me,” the student replied.

“How much for a pill?” the intern asked.

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“Like five bucks for a 25 milligram pill,” the student answered, taking the TODAY show intern back to one of the library carols where she pulled out some pills.

The intern said she didn’t have that much cash on hand and the student suggested an alternative method for scoring Adderall: feign symptoms and get a legitimate – and legal – prescription.

“I guarantee you have half the symptoms,” the student said. “Google ADD specialists. It’s in their interest to prescribe it to you because you have to go back to them once a month and check in and give them some money.”

That’s exactly what “Mike” did.

“I went to a doctor and told them I couldn’t focus,” he told Robach. “And by the end, I walked out with a prescription. It was incredibly easy.”

Robach wondered how his parents felt about his getting a prescription to boost his grades.

“It’s like a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of thing,” he said. “They don’t wanna know. They’re paying for that report card.”

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