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June 22, 2013

Study drugs are just as shameful as steroids

The Daily Star
The Daily Star

---- — Recent studies by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have indicated a disturbing trend on college campuses: as many as 1 in 3 students are using prescription drugs to help cram for exams and concentrate on tests.

The downside to abusing such drugs, most notably Adderall and Ritalin, is obvious; aside from addiction, those who use such drugs risk side effects that include seizures, depression and psychosis. But regardless, the use of such drugs to gain an unfair advantage over other students is antithetical to academic integrity and fairness.

“This is a matter of student health, safety, and academic integrity,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week in calling for tighter control over such drugs. “Plain and simple: using Adderall as a study drug is academic doping.”

Some of Schumer’s suggestions have merit; e.g., requiring a detailed medical and psychological history for students seeking these drugs at campus clinics. Others would be more difficult to enforce, such as his proposal to make parents verify mental-health diagnoses of students seeking a prescription.

But this problem isn’t one that can be solved by legislation alone. Parents need to stress to their children that using performance-enhancing drugs in academics, just as in sports, is disgraceful and morally wrong. Students should warn each other about the powerfully addictive nature of such drugs.

Colleges, for their part, could reduce class sizes and evaluate students more often on their ability to speak and write on the fly, rather than herding them en masse into lecture halls where they can be evaluated only through mind-numbing bubble-sheet tests that might lend themselves to drug-induced studying binges.

But no blood tests exist to determine whether patients actually need these drugs or if they’re just trying to gain an academic advantage – or worse yet, sell them on the black market.

Dr. Robert A. Winfield, director of the University of Michigan’s campus health center, said demand has skyrocketed in recent years.

“Things have really gotten out of hand in the last four to five years,” he said. “Students have become convinced that this will help them achieve academic success.”

Unfortunately, they’re right. Students who lack the innate wherewithal to achieve academic success can compensate by taking pills that provide a work ethic they did nothing to earn. It’s similar to how ordinary athletes can achieve extraordinary results through performance-enhancing drugs.

But athletes can be tested and steroids can be banned, and regardless, academics are much more important than sports. If this problem goes ignored, we risk turning a generation of leaders and innovators into a generation of addicts.