Studies estimate more than one-third of college students take Attention Deficit drugs without a prescription, claiming they help them focus, or give them extra energy to study during stressful times at school. They often get the pills from their pals who are properly prescribed the medicine. Schools around the country are buckling down on this buddy system of swapping stimulants. And in doing so, some claim they're discriminating against those who truly need the drugs.
"These are unfortunate kind of barriers for those who need the treatment," said Dr. Ted Grace, MD, MPH, the Director of Student Health Services at Southern Illinois University.
Studies document rampant misuse and abuse of ADHD medication on college campuses. One student, who asked that we not share his identity, explained he didn't get his prescription until his first year of college.
"I had a bunch of friends that were on them and I had taken some of theirs and that helped me," he said.
So, he asked a doctor to write him a prescription.
"I've never sold them, but have given them away," he admitted.
And that's a problem. Schools are having a hard time keeping up with the demand and the expense for treatment and diagnosis. And they're concerned about medical liability , so many are taking up new policies.
"Recently a number of campuses have announced that they will no longer prescribe stimulant medication for those students with Attention Deficit Disorder," said Dr. Jerald Kay with the American Psychiatry Association.
Those schools are leaving it to the student to get their meds back home or off-campus. Other schools say they'll fill prescriptions, but won't do any diagnosing.
"They base it on the fact that it's been diagnosed in the past," said Grace.
Still, other schools are making it much more difficult for students to get their hands on the drugs, even for those already diagnosed. Students have to meet certain testing requirements, which often include signing a contract.
"It states they will notify us if they are prescribed medication by anyone else, if they are on any other addicting kinds of medication that wouldn't mix. They promise that they will not abuse any drugs. They promise not to share or sell their medications to roommates. And importantly they promise to follow through with therapy," said Grace.
The contract also gives consent for periodic random drug testing.
"If we think they may be coming in to get a prescription to sell it on the street, that allows us the opportunity to determine that they're truly taking the medication," said Grace.
But not everyone agrees these changes are all good. Ruth Hughes heads up the advocacy group Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. She's worried this stigmatizes students who need the drugs to succeed.
"We're making it harder and harder for them to have access to good treatment and to have support. You know, if somebody has asthma and has to take asthma medication every day or diabetes or high blood pressure, we wouldn't question their need for medication," Hughes said.
The medical facilitators argue colleges face a tough dilemna.
"We need to have these protocols in place, but believe me, our last resort is to turn down somebody we think has ADHD," said Grace.
Some schools also consider the unauthorized use of the drugs as a form of cheating and failure to meet the school's honor code, meaning students could also face expulsion.