RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne. And in Your Health today, we'll hear about a couple of issues facing college students. In a moment, we'll have a report on health insurance costs for students. First, we're examining an increasingly popular drug on campus that many students believe boosts their academic performance. It's called Adderall, and it's a prescription medication most often used for treating Attention Deficit Disorder. Researchers say students are finding ways to get it without a prescription in spite of serious well-known side effects. Michelle Trudeau reports.
MICHELLE TRUDEAU: Students call the drug Addy, or if a teacher's around, my study buddy. They say Adderall and its cousin Ritalin are the most popular study drugs on campus, enhancing cognitive functions, students claim. Like this college student, who doesn't want her name used because selling or using these drugs without a prescription is a felony punishable by prison.
Unidentified Woman: I'm trying to remember the first time I ever took it.
TRUDEAU: After thinking about it for a moment, she says it was freshman year. She was cramming for tests.
Unidentified Woman: So, like, I would take it, and in about a half an hour, all of a sudden, like, looking at my journal, which has, like, all my assignments, and I'd look at it and be like, cool, okay. And I'd start to get more excited about work.
TRUDEAU: Popping an Adderall made her feel motivated, eager to hit the books, able to concentrate intensely.
Unidentified Woman: When I was sitting down to study, I wouldn't be restless. I wouldn't be thinking about the TV or listening to music. I would just be completely channeled into what I was doing and not restless at all. I was very focused.
TRUDEAU: She says Adderall didn't make her feel jittery either or anxious, not at all like a double shot of espresso.
Unidentified Woman: I functioned very, very well under it. Anything I did was productive, and it was good. And it was just like a perfect kind of transition in just a study mentality, and I could keep that up for hours.
TRUDEAU: Students say the going rate for an Addy on campuses is typically $5, unless it's exam week. Then they say the price can shoot up to $25 a pill. And the drugs, students say, are easy to get hold of, bought and sold in the library, the cafeteria, the dorms.
Unidentified Woman: You would hear that a certain girl or a certain boy sold it. And you would, you know, go up to them and ask them if they would do business with you and stuff.
TRUDEAU: Students say the main source for the study drugs on campus is students with prescriptions for their ADD. One student I talked to has been on Adderall for his ADHD since high school. Now he's senior in college, still getting his prescription of 60 pills a month. He's supposed to take two a day, but he says he doesn't like taking the medicine unless he needs to pull an all-nighter for school. So he has more pills than he needs.
Unidentified Man: I usually just give it to my friends just because I don't really want to charge them for something that I'm not even taking. It's just like (unintelligible).
TRUDEAU: He doesn't like taking Adderall because he doesn't like the side effects.
Unidentified Man: Like sometimes you can't sleep. You lose your appetite.
TRUDEAU: Adderall and Ritalin are amphetamine-based, and as such, are powerfully seductive.
Unidentified Woman: I have to start to notice my own kind of addictive behavior as being like, okay, you know, I'm starting to like this a lot. I can't really afford to be paying for this stuff. But definitely, the more you use it, the more you're going to want to use more of it.
Dr. MARTHA FARAH (Neuroscientist, University of Pennsylvania): Ritalin and Adderall can both be habit forming.
TRUDEAU: Neuroscientist Martha Farah from the University of Pennsylvania has studied the use of Ritalin and Adderall on campuses. She's one of the authors of a recent article in the journal Nature. In it, she and her colleagues describe a recent survey that found that as many as a quarter of the students on some campuses have used these study drugs in the past year. And Farah says lab studies show that Adderall and Ritalin do measurably increase concentration and motivation, making studying more engrossing and more rewarding.
Dr. FARAH: And that's interesting. And it's also a little worrisome, because basically, that extra motivation that you feel when you're using these drugs is the result of the drug's effects on the brain's reward system.
TRUDEAU: The drugs increase dopamine there, and its targeted effect on the brain's reward center can lead to trouble.
Prof. FARAH: These are serious drugs with serious side effects.
TRUDEAU: Such as severe sleep deprivation, rare heart problems and potentially addictive.
For NPR News, I'm Michelle Trudeau.