The Great Adderall Shortage of Finals Week, 2011

December 12, 2011

Political Theory

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.

Adderall clearly increases brain activity

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 (, 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?

College students that nonmedically use Adderall have higher drug usage rates than those that do not use Adderall nonmedically.

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:

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.

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14 Comments on “The Great Adderall Shortage of Finals Week, 2011”

  1. rpsafian Says:

    mbernstein7 makes some really good points in this post on a very controversial topic that is repeatedly addressed in the news and is especially relevant to college life. Until now, I did not know that the FDA was suffering from a shortage of Adderall, or that most insurance plans do not cover the cost of the drug even for those that are prescribed by a doctor. Personally I don’t take Adderall, but I can see why so many students find it beneficial and think that if you see a doctor and he prescribes you the drug, then you absolutely should take it. So who is to blame for the shortage of Adderall you ask? Well I think that it’s you, the people that are prescribed to it. If you really do need this drug to help you focus in class or get your work done on a daily basis, why would you sell it to your friends for a measly 3 or 4 dollars, deplete your own personal stash, and have to go back to the doctor sooner and spend more money to re-up? What if the next time you go to the doctor he says “Unfortunately we’re all out of Adderall right now, you’re just going to have to wait a few months until we get a new supply.” I bet then you would really wish you didn’t sell a few pills to your friends. And if you think Adderall is such a great drug that helps you finish your work, study for tests, and get the A’s that you think you deserve, than why would you share it with anyone else? They may be your best friends, but isn’t the goal in school to do better than everyone else? Like I said, I think those that are prescribed Adderall are to blame for the shortage of the drug because they are lending their supply to those who don’t need it, realistically only hurting themselves and helping others.

    In terms of looking at this problem from a PURELY Machiavellian standpoint, I definitely think he would say “The more Adderall the better!” The ends in this case would be the higher grades that people believe they are receiving, and the means would be Adderall, therefore justifying that the drug is okay. He would argue that the drug could be used by anyone, whether they are prescribed or not, if this is what it takes for them to be successful. I don’t usually agree with most of Machiavelli’s points, but I say if you think Adderall is really what you need to succeed in school, go for it. I’ll stick to coffee and sour patch to keep me going.

  2. mrau188 Says:

    I believe that the use of adderall is one of the most helpful drugs that is out there on the market today. I know that it should be solely medical, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons when it comes to the non-diagnosed uses of this drug. Although its side effects are not proven yet and we have no idea of the effects of this drug on our body later in life, it is hard for us to say that we should not be taking it because of the immediate positive effects that it has on our lives. We all know that alcohol and cigarettes are bad for us yet people still do them because it makes their lives seem better at that specific moment in time. Along with that since nobody knows if there are going to be any side effects or not then people are just going to go out there and use the drug blindly because of the immediate effects it has on their lives. But to get back to the answer in this case the ends ABSOLUTELY justify the means. I bet more than likely 90% of the comments and posts on this blog were adderall induced.

  3. mikerwagner Says:

    I saw the movie Limitless and I asked this same question. I wonder if in the future, more developed drugs or supplements will be available to help assist students with their education. Perhaps in the future, parents will be faced with a choice of providing their children with supplements that will enable them to learn faster and more effieciently. Those parents that choose not to force this upon their children may fulfill their own moral obligations, but the reality is their children may fall behind. In an era where tiger moms and adderall are controversial issues, it worries me if things may progress to the point where moral conflicts with educational efficiency. To be honest, Id like to think I would be the parent that raises their kid naturally, to be healthy and “be who you are” kind of thing. But Ive got to imagine that there would be a breaking point, that if enough medical evidence was provided, that this new system was healthy and safe and had been implemented for a long period of time already, wouldn’t you?

    I didn’t know Adderall was in low supply but I personally believe that being dependent upon a drug for performance is dangerous for your future. It would lower your confidence in your own abilities and impair you in the future.

  4. hannahlevitt Says:

    The fact that Machiavelli would agree with the use of Adderall and other brain-stimulating drugs is key in the evaluation of the issue itself. The general point Machiavelli makes about “the ends justifying the means” as applied to this situation supports the use of these drugs. I would agree with this Machiavellian thought in support of the use of these drugs.
    I have never taken Adderall (or Ritalin, Vyvanse, etc.) in my life; however, I have spent a lot of time around those that have. Witnessing the amount of work that they can get done with the extra brain stimulation as opposed to without it is definitely worth noting. In fact, I believe that these drugs should be available for over-the-counter use. This belief has nothing to do with the ethics of using the drug (which are debatable), but involves equal opportunity.
    As mentioned above, brain-stimulating drugs such as Adderall are available to those who are diagnosed with ADHD or narcolepsy. Also as mentioned above, it is not difficult to be prescribed a brain-stimulating drug. All that is required is that you fail (or pass, depending on how you look at it) a test that determines whether or not you have ADHD. It is very easy to fake, which makes it so pretty much anyone who wants this prescription can get it with little to no effort.
    If just anyone can walk into a doctor’s office and walk out with Adderall, shouldn’t it be readily available? It essentially is anyways, right? I believe that Adderall should be available over the counter based on principle because of how available it is to people right now. The shortage of Adderall is due to the fact that so many people that don’t actually have ADHD or narcolepsy are taking this drug to enhance their performance. In order to fix this issue, the government needs to either crack down on the number of people who can be prescribed this drug, or raise the production numbers in order to satisfy demand.

  5. pbaumhart Says:

    Throughout this blog you can see this issue of Adderall usage continually being brought up by various users. This only proves to show that the role that Adderall plays in college life is picking up speed. As acknowledged in this post, the blame for this issue does not fall only on the people who are taking it without prescriptions but also by doctors that are over-prescribing the drug to the public.
    The analysis of this issue using Machiavelli’s is a very interesting take on the matter. If this is what must be done to succeed then it should be considered as a possible aid, but the fact of the matter that it involves unethical means should be taken into account. Going beyond the realm of legality you must consider that by taking these drugs you are giving yourself an unfair advantage over your peers. That is why this is an issue of principle and not one of legality.
    As the above comment states, proper steps must be taken in order to assure that this issue is corrected and they must be done so in a timely manner. The solution does not lie in increasing the production of this medication, but instead strictly in the realm of law enforcement cracking down on non-prescription usage.

  6. jonkeren Says:

    I Personally believe that Adderall should be allowed to be subscribed to people without ADHD or different forms of it. Adderall to many people is often referred to as the “study candy.” It not only makes your focus much more vivd, but also enhances overall brain activity. Furthermore, this “miracle drug” allows students to successfully cram for large exams just hours away from them. People absorb and retain information very well on adderall and this affect is the reason people are able to succeed on exams in these type of circumstances. I agree that Machiavelli would not be against the use of adderall to study. Additionally, I do not believe that using adderall is a form of cheating. In no way does adderall give you any kind of answers to exams, it simply helps people study longer and more efficiently. Overall It is a shame that there are shortages of adderall, especially around college finals. There should be an influx in the production of adderall immediately.

  7. bmschmid Says:

    This post is very relevant in the context of college and upcoming finals, however there are some points that I do not agree with. Adderall is not like the pill in the film Limitless with Bradley Cooper. It doesn’t turn an average joe into a superhuman. If it did, then imagine the demand then.

    The problem lies with the students who are prescribed for Adderall but who sell it to their fellow students for a profit. I was just talking to a few friends about this question: Is selling your extra Adderall at the end of the month or whenever, is it considered drug dealing? One of my friends responded saying that you are helping people out on their exams. On Adderall, like any other drug, you get a certain sensation and like other drugs it can be not necessarily addictive, buy its very possible to build up a tolerance to it.

    As for Machiavelli, I believe that he would condone the usage of it if that persons aspirations were for the betterment of the state or some other grand scheme. After second thought, YES he would totally endorse the usage of Adderall to get ahead.

  8. thelenj1 Says:

    I am not sure how I feel about Adderall. On one hand, it is not fair that people who do not have ADHD who take the drug are able to study better than others who do not have the condition and do not take the drug. At the same time, it is not like the drug is helping people who did not study know the material, studying still has to occur. It is just easier to study with the drug. Furthermore, how many people are prescribed the drug that do not even have ADHD? In receiving the drug, they were either just wrongly diagnosed or faked the test in order to obtain the prescription. Is it fair for them to take the drug? They are getting it legally, even though many others in their same condition do not have means to receive the drug. I agree with former comments that Machiavelli would say the ends justify the means in taking Adderall. By taking the drugs one will do better in school, leading to a better job, and thus be more successful in life. Even though taking the drug may be immoral, the outcome is worth the risks.

  9. cobyj17 Says:

    I strongly disagree with many of the comments suggesting that the ends justify the means with regards to the use of Adderall. Apart from the health risks, although I’m not an expert on the effects of the drug, it is reasonable to assume that inhibits learning. While someone who uses Adderall may be able to get the bottom line grade effectively, that is not the full purpose of schooling. Were Adderall to be allowed in schools for non medical uses it would encourage a lifestyle where students don’t focus on learning, rather focus just on getting good grades and risking their health.

    The ends do not justify the means, especially when it causes an actual shortage for those who actually need it.

  10. abswang Says:

    The movie Limitless made the use of adderall seem really appealing. Yeah, Bradley Cooper had extremely bad side effects, but adderall when just used once in a while hasn’t shown extremely harmful side effects yet. I think most of the problem with adderall is getting addicted and moral issues. Yes, it’s not fair that some people need the medicine to get their concentration level just equal to everyone else, but there’s nothing else the government can do to make people who don’t use it to not use it. It already needs a prescription, and if you made it illegal, just like drugs and alcohol, students will still find a way to get around this law and take it anyway. I personally think it’s an individual decision. if you can live with needing to take a pill to study for exams or finish a paper, then go for it. Just be aware that in the real world you can’t always pop a pill and be fine.

  11. nozomigg Says:

    This was an interesting topic, and as a a student with ADHD that takes Vyvanse, I also find it very applicable to my everyday life.
    I agree with you in that some of the fault belongs with those students who take ADHD medications illegally.. but I have to disagree that the fault purely belong to them – or even mostly belong to them, to be honest.

    I think a little recognized fact is that those who are prescribed to Adderall and other medications are monitored very, very closely in terms of how much they are allowed to take (and in this illegal case, give away). Insurance companies and pharmacies have strict rules regarding when a patient is allowed to refill their medication, and generally downright refuse to give out any more medication until the number of days that their original prescription has specified has run out. Additionally, most therapists and doctors are not allowed to write prescriptions for ADHD drugs that require numerous refills. To monitor whether or not a patient actually needs it, the patient must continue to see their doctor or therapist in order to receive a new prescription for the next dosage. Lastly, new laws have made it VERY hard for someone to forge a prescription – even if someone was able to obtain an actual prescription sheet, most pharmacy’s require that they speak to the doctor directly before giving out the medication to the patient.
    With that being said, the number of students who are illegally taking the medication does not affect how much medication is being consumed. At the end of the day, in terms of numbers, it doesn’t matter if a Ritalin pill was taken by a student with ADHD who needs it, or a student that was using it to write a paper – only one Ritalin pill was consumed. Every ADHD pill that a student sells is one less ADHD pill that they have for themselves. The number does change.

    Thus, I’d like to propose that the real problem comes with corrupt doctors, who are more than ready to hand out prescriptions so long as they continue to have patients paying for visits and receive some of the benefits from their patients taking pills. They are the only ones with the power to change the amount of Adderral that is being consumed because they are the only ones who can convince insurance companies, pharmacies, and the government to give out more. The fact that it’s rumored that Adderral is “so easy to get – you just go into the doctor, tell him you have trouble concentrating, and they’ll give you a prescription” says enough as it is. From personal experience, I know several people who have obtained this drug when they don’t need it. In fact, one of my friends took the test to determine for ADHD, and passed negative for all of its consequences…. except one. And yet, he was given the prescription.

    Of course, the rise of student’s abuse of the drug, its overwhelming demand, and it’s lack of serious side effects makes it easy for a doctor to fall for such corruption; which is why the blame also falls on the students as well. But in all reality, they have no means to actually change rises and falls of Adderral to that level.

  12. danielpienkowski Says:

    I think it is apparent that the illegal use of Adderall on campus is the most prevalent now during finals week, and the morality of its use is often put into question. Obviously, it is illegal to possess it without a prescription and there are apparent health risks involved with taking it as well, but I think the most important question is in considering the moral implications of the issue. Is taking Adderall to focus and study “cheating” or “unfair?”

    Honestly, although Adderall does stimulate the brain and help for focus, I think labeling it as cheating is a little off. Adderall in and of itself doesn’t magically help you ace your exam or paper; one must still put in the work while taking Adderall to get the desired results. It’s not like plagiarizing a paper or using a cheat sheet on an exam which are unfair shortcuts to good grades. You still have to put the hours in, and Adderall essentially makes it easier to stay focused.

    Also, divorced from the whole legality aspect, there is a very fine line in assessing what is “fair” or not when it comes to studying. For example, I occasionally take alertness aids, which are over the counter pills that I get at Kroger’s. Essentially, they are mainly just concentrated caffeine, yet they do help me stay up and focus on my work during crunch time. They are perfectly legal, yet I believe they also do give me an edge while studying. Although not everyone has readily available access to Adderall, I still think that it is hardly considered cheating.

    At the end of the day, I agree with the Machiavellian standpoint to this issue, which is a point that I argued in one of my previous blog posts dealing with cheating in society in general. Everyone is looking for an edge when competing, and as long as they are still putting in the work and not hurting anyone in the process, then everything is fair game.

  13. nnvirani Says:

    Do the ends justify the means? In the case of adderall, I would definitely say yes. When you do not have an ambition to study and all you want to do is go home and chill, it is the drug that overpowers that feeling and keeps you going. Even after 6 hours of intense work, you do not want to eat, do not want to sleep, just study more. The one major downfall of this drug is the moral implications. It is on a much lesser extent but it can be compared to steroids in sports. Adderall does not make you smarter but that extra stretch of work does get you better grades. If you get caught with adderall and are not prescribed, serious legal action can be taken because it has amphetamine salts, a schedule 1 drug, in it. I look at adderall as coffee on steroids. The side effects are what halts the drugs legality but it should not be illegal because it does not increase intelligence, just allows you to better use your true intelligence to its utmost potential

  14. kirtip Says:

    While adderall is obviously involved in a debate about whether it should be able to be used outside of a prescribed case, I will leave this topic out of my post and concentrate on the shortage the author mentioned. In my opinion, the shortage is not due to use by those who it is prescribed to, but the blame is on those being prescribed. The shortage comes from these people selling their adderall to other people who want to use it without a prescription. Then, these prescribed patients need to go back and get more faster because they sold it. The sale of a prescription drug is not only illegal, but is causing a shortage for true patients who need it at times like finals, just to make a quick buck. It seems quite unfair to people who actually need it to function in test situations but cannot because it is being sold to people without the need for it.

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