Everyone has been there before: It’s the day before the final, you haven’t paid attention in lecture/discussion once all semester, and you’re now being forced to teach yourself an entire semester’s worth of material in twelve hours. Throw out the conventional methods of coffee, 5 hour energy shots, and Red Bull. By popping one tiny, orange/blue pill, you immediately become Bradley Cooper in the film Limitless. You feel as if you’re reading faster than you ever have in your entire life (despite the fact that your heart is beating faster than it ever has). You seem to fight the urges to close your eyes and doze off and continue studying throughout the night, finding that pulling an all-nighter isn’t that difficult with a little bit of help.
This help comes in the form of the popular ADHD medication, Adderall. Adderall is a mixture of amphetamine salts that essentially work as speed for your body and mind. Officially prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, the drug is often used by students to help keep them attentive towards their work. In addition to keeping students attentive, it also helps students resist the urge to take breaks, and even helps limit appetite.
The use of Adderall (and similar products, such as Vyvanse and Ritalin) by people that are not officially prescribed the drug is starting to create problems: the adderall supply is running on empty. According to this news report by NPR (http://www.npr.org/2011/11/22/142661880/adhd-sufferers-fear-an-adderall-shortage), many pharmacies are having difficulties filling prescriptions for Adderall, as the FDA has not bumped up the allotment of the amphetamine in December.
This is where the ethical dilemma comes into play: who is to blame for this shortage? Is it that those who are prescribed are taking too much Adderall? Are doctors too readily prescribing Adderall, as it is profitable for them (due to the fact that most insurance plans do not cover Adderall, thus making it an out-of-pocket expense)? Or is it the fact that an overwhelmingly large number of students are taking the drug, despite the fact that they are not prescribed, to give them an upper hand on the amount of work that they have?
According to this in depth report from 2009 by Margaret Talbot:
“In 2005, a team led by Sean Esteban McCabe, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Research Center, reported that in the previous year 4.1 per cent of American undergraduates had taken prescription stimulants for off-label use; at one school, the figure was twenty-five per cent. Other researchers have found even higher rates: a 2002 study at a small college found that more than thirty-five per cent of the students had used prescription stimulants nonmedically in the previous year.”
(Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/04/27/090427fa_fact_talbot#ixzz1gLsizhzB)
I believe that the blame lies on this group of students who use “prescription stimulants nonmedically.” The fact that students are illegally buying this prescription drug (and are preventing people who actually need the drug to function on a day to day basis) is an indicator of the sad state of our education system. College students will go to any lengths to succeed as the pressure to do well is greater now than it ever has, due to the lack of available jobs in today’s struggling economy.
Now, what would Niccolo Machiavelli have to say about using Adderall nonmedically to achieve success in school? Do the “ends justify the means” in this particular situation? Machiavelli would actually agree with the use of drugs like Adderall in order to succeed, because he believed that any method possible to achieve success should be considered.
So, next time you’re sitting in the Ref Room late at night, struggling to keep your eyes open, and you see the person sitting across from you furiously typing away at their laptop, remember that it’s not just that they care about their work that much more than you; there may be some drug usage to thank.