TODAY   |  October 18, 2012

Adderall abuse on the rise among college students

Students who are having trouble concentrating on their schoolwork are using the drug prescribed for attention deficit disorders to help them focus, but experts are cautioning that anyone illegally buying or selling Adderall will face the same consequences as someone selling cocaine. NBC’s Kate Snow reports.

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>>> but let us begin with a growing problem on college campuses. a drug that some kids are taking, even dealing that may surprise you. nbc's kate snow takes a look for tonight's "rock center."

>> if you ask teenagers or a 20-something, they all know what an addy is, almost viewed as a form of caffeine or red bull . but one ivy league student learned the hard way, it's not something to mess around with.

>> reporter: it was exam time at columbia university , stefan perez was in the library struggling to study with a friend.

>> i told him, you know, i can't concentrate. he said this is what you need and pulls out this pill.

>> what kind of pill?

>> an adderall pill from his prescription.

>> adderall , it's a drug we've all heard about, widely prescribed for attention deficit disorders. but this isn't a story about adhd, it's a story of an ambitious student and many, many more who have misused adderall to get an edge.

>> i had this tunnel vision , everything else was not in my zone. it was just me and my books and whatever i had to do. and i was just scanning pages like a machine.

>> taking it all in?

>> yeah, i wouldn't even want to get up and drink water.

>> they call it the college crack, they call it the study drug, the focus. when you hear those terms, you know right there people are talking about adderall .

>> reporter: robert l. hill , special agent with the federal drug enforcement administration says students who abuse adderall don't seem to realize the risk they're taking.

>> it's treated as the same class as cocaine as oxycodone. you can be charged with a felony because you're violating the law.

>> how easy is it to get this stuff?

>> almost as easy as buying books at the bookstore.

>> wipe don't kids think this is a big deal ? this is a controlled substance.

>> because you're doing very well. when you're taking it most of the time.

>> reporter: and before long, stefan said he wanted ready access to his own supply.

>> i said, how did you get that prescription? he said, oh, go to psychological health services , they give it out like it's candy.

>> he made an appointment and got his own prescription. we asked columbia for an interview, the university declined to comment on this case. but in a statement said, its student health service uses a detailed clinical protocol for evaluation of adhd and related conditions and takes a wholistic approach toward treatment including short-term counseling. stefan says he shared his pills, even sold some to other students, a mistake that came back to haunt him one night in december 2010 .

>> it was an explosive bang that followed by this that knocked my door down. i was like, whoa.

>> it was an early morning raid, stefan was caught up in a drug bust . the nypd's operation ivy league.

>> in the end, stefan pleaded guilty to selling adderall , did 300 hours of community service . columbia expelled him. he also suffered mood swings and other side effects on adderall and he wanted to tell his story in part so other students would recognize it's a dangerous drug , it's not something to play around with, and he wants people to learn from his mistakes.

>> that's important information. and by the way, if you want to see more of kate's story about adderall , that's tonight on "rock center with brian williams " at 10:00 /9:00 central time .