Saturday, May 22, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Many college students have found a new way to cope with the stresses of academia life: illegal Adderall use.
Adderall is a prescription drug used to help treat people with Attention Hyper Deficit Disorder, commonly known as ADHD. However, in the past decade, there has been an increased amount of illicit use of the drug among college students as a study aid.
Many students find that taking Adderall helps increase attention and concentration on topics that would normally be uninteresting or assignments that would usually be very difficult. According to a 2008 study by the Journal of American College Health, 34 percent of college students have illegally used ADHD medications at some point during their college career.
According to Drugs.com, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, the generic name for Adderall, is a “central nervous system stimulant” that has the means to affect chemicals in nerves and the brain that deal with hyperactivity and impulse control. This helps people with ADHD because it fixes the chemical imbalance in their brains and allows them to live a somewhat normal lifestyle.
What most students don’t know is that using this “study drug” without a prescription can have some serious side effects. In most cases, users can experience insomnia, irritability, and loss of appetite. Also, for people with depression, drugs like Adderall can actually worsen symptoms.
University of Iowa psychology professor Stephen Arndt, who specializes in substance abuse, said that using the drug on a daily basis can lead to extreme “wear and tear” on the liver. And for some with prior heart conditions, ADHD prescription medications can cause an unsafe increase blood pressure and heart rate, resulting in a possible heart attack.
“This drug is harsh on the body,” Arndt said. “Having a heart attack at the age of 20 is not a good thing.”
Arndt also said that high doses of the drug can even cause one to become psychotic. These extreme effects include paranoia, increased anxiety, and hallucinations, which are very much like the effects of taking Cocaine. Furthermore, an article published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2006 stated that there have been 25 deaths in recent years from the illegal abuse of ADHD prescription medications like Adderall.
Aside from the dangerous side effects of taking the drug without a prescription, Arndt said that 20 percent of people who illegally take ADHD medications experience problematic use. The nature of the drug combined with the nature of some users can lead to a dependence similar to a serious addiction. In these cases, one can actually experience withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug.
Despite the toll this drug can take on one’s health, the actual cost of illegally using Adderall is relatively affordable for a poor college student. An article published in The Morning Call states that these pills go for between $3 and $5 for 10 to 20 milligrams. One UI student that confesses to selling his own prescription charges a rate of $2-5 for one 10 milligram pill depending on how close he is with the client. He said he has never had complaints.
“Kids are willing to pay to get the grades,” he said. “I feel like everyone I know gets Adderall from somewhere.”
During finals week alone, the seller said he can make up to $100-150 with still having pills for himself. If he didn’t need to take it, he thinks he could make more than double that. “Unfortunately, my life doesn’t function when I don’t take Adderall,” he said.
The UI dealer typically sets aside a portion of his prescription each month to sell to his usual 12 clients. He claims he can do this because he is over prescribed. While he is supposed to take up to 60 milligrams of the drug per week, he only takes between 20-30 milligrams.
Because he only sells to close friends and acquaintances, he said he isn’t phased by the risk of getting caught, although he does recognize the serious legal consequences. He just doesn’t see an issue in selling a drug that is not for recreational use.
“Morally, I don’t have a problem selling a pill to someone if it helps them get a good grade,” he said.
Students apparently prefer this drug as opposed to other ADHD medications like Ritalin, Concerta, and Dexedrine because it makes them feel “less jittery”.
Plus, some users feel Adderall has more of an effect on them. “The others do the job, but Adderall is way more intense,” said one University of Iowa student who admitted to using the drug two to three times per week.
Unfortunately, the number of prescriptions issued for ADHD medications increased 369 percent from 1992 to 2002, and is still going up. In fact, according to an IMS Health study, in the year 2005, there were 31.8 million prescriptions written for these types of medications.
The UI student earlier described said that after using the drug illegally all throughout college, he finally got a prescription this past summer. “It was extremely easy. I told my doctor I was having trouble paying attention for long periods of time, and the next thing I knew she came back with a prescription,” he said.
Arndt agrees the drug is easy to get and too widely prescribed. “Theoretically, a test is given to determine is someone has ADHD. But that test is relatively easy to fake,” he said. Arndt thinks making the drug harder to get is the first step in combating it’s abuse.
Arndt also believes education about the drug can help give students a wake-up call about the real dangers of taking prescription drugs without a prescription. As for now, it seems like many college students are ignoring the potential consequences of illegally using drugs like Adderall to help cram for an exam or concentrate on assignment.
“It really is a horrible drug. It’s too bad it’s so helpful,” the UI seller said.
A recent informal survey on campus found that 68 percent of undergraduates felt depressed at least once during their college career. Nationally, a survey done by the American Psychiatric Association shows that same statistic is at just 30 percent. With the number of depressed UI students more than doubling the national average, and the number of depressed students around the nation consistently rising, many concerned individuals look to the university for a solution.
But while the university does offer counseling for students at the UI Counseling Center, the center’s limited resources have left many on a waiting list up to 15 students long and lasting up to ten days. The center sees an average of 1,800 students per year, but because of this waiting list, Director Sam Cochran feels they could help significantly more.
“There is definitely not enough money or staff allocated [to the center],” he says. “Every semester, there are times that we get filled and cannot meet the need.”
Because getting students to come in for their first initial appointment is often the biggest step in dealing with a mental health issue, the center’s inability to guarantee immediate treatment is considered a huge problem.
“It is essential that a student’s first appointment is scheduled right away or a lot of times [that student] won’t come back,” Cochran says.
But according to Tom Rocklin, the vice president of student services who oversees the center, there are simply no more resources to be given. The center’s budget is connected with all of the other units in student services, including student health and the residence halls, so he says resources are tight all around.
“Compared to other universities our size, we do everything on this campus with about half of the resources we should have,” says Rocklin. “I would love to give the center more counselors. But to do that, what would we have to give up?”
While sacrificing doctors at student health or pulling resources from other areas for more counselors at the counseling center may not be the answer, Cochran and other concerned students say UI students’ mental health needs more attention from the university than it currently gets.
One UI student, Madison Smith, says a pileup of negative events in her life sent her into a depressed state that became too much to handle alone. After friends and family noticed a changed sadness about her, Smith began to visit the University of Iowa Counseling Center on another’s recommendation.
“This past semester, I had a breakdown,” she recalls. “My parents were getting a divorce, things in my sorority were going wrong and the anxiety of it all just hit me at once.”
After Smith followed through with her initial appointment at the center in fall of 2009, she and her counselor decided to continue treatment. While she feels strongly about the benefits of her biweekly counseling and does not hesitate to advocate the center to other students, she warns that it is almost always difficult for her to get an appointment.
“For the most part, they’re always really booked,” she says. “I never expect to get an appointment the day I call.”
In 2006, the UI Counseling Center received a recommendation from the UI Review Committee to add two more counselors to their staff. Since then, the center has only received one more full-time staff member, and Cochran and his staff openly agree that the number of students coming in has increased dramatically since 2006.
In fact, Cochran estimates that the client hours at the center are up 25 percent in the last year alone.
So what is it about the University of Iowa that has students feeling so blue?
Local experts suggest one contributing factor may be UI students’ excessive drinking habits. Among the same undergraduates originally surveyed, 79 percent of them admitted to binge drinking “at least once per week.” Both Cochran and Lee Anna Clark, a UI psychology professor, agree that alcohol abuse and depression go hand in hand due to the fact that alcohol physically amplifies the symptoms.
“There is very good data showing that mental disorders and alcohol abuse are interlinked with each other,” Clark says.
Aside from the physical side effects of alcohol as a central nervous system depressant, Cochran believes drinking contributes to mental health issues like depression because many of the students who abuse alcohol make poor decisions that cause problems for them in the future.
In reference to the informal undergraduate survey on campus, Cochran’s hypothesis seems to be right on. 17 percent of those students said they felt depressed from “remorse or guilt from previous actions”, much like the intoxicated regret that Cochran refers to.
Because of this remorse, Cochran says it is entirely possible that a student not previously depressed can become depressed after they begin binge drinking on a regular basis. Hence, it is unrealistic to believe that there may be something unique about Iowa City.
An on campus study conducted by the Research on Iowa Student Experiences (RISE) in 2008 concluded that “alcohol use- including excessive consumption- influences experiences and outcomes of UI undergraduates from entry through senior year.”
Although it may seem normal for college students to drink excessively, only 44 percent of college students nationwide said they engaged in binge drinking “at least once per week”. According to the undergraduates surveyed at UI, that number is at 79 percent, with 48 percent of those students admitting to binge drinking three or more times on a weekly basis.
But for Clark, it’s no surprise UI students drink more than the average college student. According to a fellow psychologist’s research, she says, “the single greatest factor in prevalence of binge drinking is the number of bars a student can get into in proximity to campus.” In a town where a “bar crawl” means literally walking one door over to the next bar, it’s no secret that binge drinking has become an integral part of Hawkeye culture.
James Adams, a UI student who admits to struggling with clinical depression since he was 8 years old, says he now rarely drinks at all. After years of “laying in bed and trying to sleep life away”, he has finally learned to cope with the sadness and has moved on. For him, he says that part of that coping is cutting frequent binge drinking out of his life.
“When you drink all the time, you lose control,” Adams says. “I have realized that I am better off when I am in control of my life.”
Cochran says it is unclear whether drinking directly leads to depression or depression spurs drinking as a form of self-medication. “Still,” he says. “It would be interesting to know how many college students binge drink on a regular basis and do not become depressed.”
A National Issue
While Cochran and the rest of the UI Counseling Center staff surely feel the heat, they are not alone. Over 90 percent of counseling centers nationwide are seeing an increase in the “number and severity of students with mental health problems” according to a recent annual study at the University of Michigan.
College students across the nation are struggling more today than in previous generations, including the generation of the Great Depression. A 2007 national study comparing current college-age students to the same age group of that time period said that students today are five times more likely to experience a mental health problem.
Since the Great Depression is widely looked upon as one of the darkest times in American history, many publications across the country are openly questioning how this could be. It is likely that our nation’s economic recession has put more stress on some Americans, but a deeper look into the research reveals that it is not these kind of external factors that have college students distraught.
Brittany Gentile, a doctoral student and co-author of original study, says that although she and the other authors initially thought the economy played a huge role in the national decline of college students’ mental health, the data indicated otherwise.
“If that had been the case, there would be jumps when [the economy was] good and dips when it was bad,” she said.
Instead, she found the most likely cause behind the increase in mental health issues is that college students today are focusing on unrealistic goals that cannot be attained.
“There is a discrepancy between the way their life is and the way they want it to be,” she says, adding that these high expectations are only a recipe for disappointment. She believes cultural pressures to be highly competitive and successful are likely contributors of this.
Professor Clark agrees. “Particularly for college students, there is a much greater pressure to attend a good school, get good grades and get a job,” she says. Clark feels that with the current state of the job market, these pressures are amplified, leaving individuals vulnerable to mental illness.
On top of excessive alcohol consumption, UI undergraduates surveyed also blamed some of the above causes for feeling down. When depressed, 52 percent of UI students said they felt “pressure from daily commitments” and 29 percent said they were saddened by “perceived inadequacies or failures in terms of academics.”
With UI’s number of depressed students significantly higher than the national average, and both national and local circumstances working against them, what are students to do?
“It’s Not Enough”
One thing is clear: a significant portion of undergraduates at the University of Iowa are struggling, and Director Cochran feels that the university is not devoting enough attention to mental health. Although Vice President Rocklin says he trusts the services for students on campus are as effective as they can be, both he and Cochran acknowledge that there is virtually no training program for faculty to spot students in distress.
After doctoral student Gang Lu shot and killed four other individuals on UI campus before taking his own life in 1991, Rocklin says the university put together a campus threat assessment team to avoid violent incidents like that in the future. However, in order for the threat assessment team to be called into action, a recommendation needs to be made first.
Professor Clark says without recommendations pushing students to get the help they need, it is easy for students with mental health issues to get caught in a “vicious cycle.” Although 68 percent of undergraduates surveyed said they have been depressed at least once during college, only 14 percent of those students have ever sought professional help.
“We don’t know how many are ultimately getting help at other places, but we certainly are not seeing them all,” Cochran acknowledged.
With limited access to university resources and support, Clark says it may be up to the students to take their fate into their own hands.
“I would really encourage students to educate themselves about mental problems, talk with their friends, and put the notion of it being secret or hidden behind them,” she says.
Still, some refuse to give up, arguing the university has a responsibility to its students and that there is still room for change.
“The health and well-being of the students who attend this university should be a top priority,” Madison Smith says. “There should be no question in directing funds to programs that keep students at this university safe.”
Smith says her regular visits to the counseling center were what got her back on track. Without the center, she says she would have never learned to cope with the stress she felt in her “huge transition to college.”
“[The UI Counseling Center has] made various proposals [for more resources],” Cochran says. “We don’t want to get in the business of charging for services, we just want to do what we can with what we’ve got.”
And according to him, what they’ve got is a lot of students on a waiting list. But for the time being, Cochran and advocates of the center will have to keep fighting.
Another magazine-style story I wrote in college-- Interesting trend in Iowa City.
As University of Iowa students settled back into campus life last fall, many began using their own blood to fill their bank accounts.
Donating plasma has quickly become a popular way for the average healthy college kid to make fast cash without putting in a whole lot of effort. After an preliminary physical examination lasting two to three hours, students can make up to $45 with just one donation.
University of Iowa student Trent Wilson says donating plasma kept his parents off his back and money in his pocket for nearly three months.
“I didn’t have a job or the desire to get one,” says the senior college student. “I wanted easy money.”
Because plasma is the specific part of the blood that controls bleeding and infection, many first time donors are a little apprehensive about the process. However, the human body replaces the plasma that is removed fairly quickly, making it possible for healthy individuals to donate as often as twice a week.
In fact, BioLife assistant managers Krista Johanson and Jason Hooten assert that plasma donors experience even less aftereffects than regular blood donors due to the fact that plasma donors get their red blood cells back.
Kirkwood student and University of Iowa hopeful Nick Sievert says he’s never experienced any real side effects, even after donating consistently for an entire summer. The Coralville facility became his only income source after he lost his job at the university during the flood.
“A couple times I got a cold, metallic taste in mouth,” says the self-proclaimed hippie. “But other than that, I didn’t notice a thing.”
With the economy down and many students out of a job, donating plasma is a seemingly ideal way for a healthy individual over 110 pounds and 18 years of age to make money. Donors receive $20 on the first donation, $30 on the second, and can currently receive an additional $15 bonus just for showing up. Johanson says about 35 percent of the donors at the BioLife center in Coralville are college students.
During the plasma collection process, officially termed plasmapheresis, blood is pumped into a spinning device that separates the plasma from red and white blood cells. Johanson says the whole donation only takes about an hour and half.
“They always played the movie ‘Anchorman’ for me whenever I came in,” says Wilson.
According to Hooten, one vile of plasma is made up of roughly 10,000 donors. Because plasma cannot be synthetically produced in a laboratory, repeat donors are the lifeline for many patients with immune deficiencies and infectious diseases.
“Without it, they can’t survive,” he says. Plasma can also be used as a quick fluid replacement if someone loses a lot of blood during surgery or childbirth.
Despite the financial and altruistic rewards of donating plasma, some students remain skeptical because of others’ experiences and rumors about its effects.
“You honestly could not pay me 100 dollars to do it,” says UI student Marina Levin. She said her roommate fainted last year in a local Wal-Mart just a few hours after donating.
“She woke up to a random lady holding frozen vegetables on her head,” says Levin. “And it’s not like she’s small and petite. She’s like a big girl.”
Even donors like Wilson, who personally never had any problems, question the rumored health risks associated with donating plasma.
“Someone told me they knew a guy who got hepatitis from doin’ it,” he says. “I’ll never go back.”
For some, the health risks aren’t the only thing turning them away from plasma donation. UI student Alex Helmuth says he’s never had a bad experience but refuses to donate again because he thinks it’s a rip-off.
“They give you like 30 bucks and you know they’re getting like hundreds and hundreds,” says the blonde soccer player. “That place is nicer than my doctor’s office.”
With multiple flat screen T.Vs in the waiting room and high, sky-lit ceilings, the assumption that BioLife center in Coralville does well for itself is rather indisputable. But when asked about the profit they make from each donation, Hooten answers vaguely.
“I’m sure the prices are different depending on what the plasma is going to make,” he explains. “If it takes a lot of plasma to make that small vile, then that small vile is going to be a lot of money.”
Still, many don’t complain. Johanson says the vast majority of their donors are regulars, usually coming in twice a week. With the ability to make up to $90 a week and over $360 per month, some students consider donating plasma the unemployed’s goldmine.
“The only reason I stopped is because I got a real job,” Sievert says.
When asked if he would donate it again now, he shrugs his shoulders indifferently on the issue. When asked if he would recommend it to his girlfriend, he thinks twice.
“I mean I wouldn’t tell her not to,” he says. “But I wouldn’t advertise it either.”
I nervously walked towards my boyfriend’s apartment, knowing that the moment of truth was just minutes away. Danny was always telling me how proud he was that I stopped tanning, encouraging me any way he could and building me up when I complained about my lack of sun exposure. I couldn’t bear to let him down.
The first few weeks were bearable. We laughed at our fading skin and poked fun at our friends who couldn’t’ drop the habit. We calculated that by terminating our tanning memberships, we would save a whopping $360 a year. We researched what colors went well with lighter skin tones and planned for a new winter wardrobe. We knew we were better off, and life was good.
But then we got pale. Really pale. Probably the palest we have ever been. And things got complicated. I was shocked at how my newly sunless life sent me into a state of self-conscious depression, and found myself desperate for ways to bronze my skin. I even secretly wished I didn’t have a partner in recovery so I could lie under the UV light just one more time.
- Ease off slowly. If quitting cold turkey leaves you depressed, experts suggest cutting down gradually. Make a two-week plan to stop and keep your goal in sight.
- Hit the gym. The release of endorphins that comes from excessive sun exposure is almost identical to what many refer to as “the runner’s high.” Researchers suggest being active for 45 minutes a few days a week to produce the same euphoric feeling.
- Use UV-free alternatives. Almost every tanning salon offers a sunless spray tan service, but if you’re nervous about an environment-induced relapse from visiting the site of your old addiction, try a bronzing cream or self-tanning lotion. They’re cheaper and available almost everywhere.
- Still depressed? Antidepressants may be the answer. As previously stated, some recovering addicts may suffer from seasonal depression. If this is the case, seeking prescription help from your doctor may be the help you need.
I couldn’t agree more.