Pubdate: Sun, 21 May 2000
Source: Boston Herald (MA)
Copyright: 2000 The Boston Herald, Inc.
Contact:  One Herald Square, Boston, MA 02106-2096
Author: Doug Hanchett


College Kids Using Drug To Study, Party


The name conjures up hyperactive children bouncing from one task to
another, unable to concentrate on any one thing for more than a few

But now the popular drug, an amphetamine that has helped countless
kids with attention deficit disorder find some focus in their lives,
seems to have found a new audience.

College students.

At campuses across the country, a growing number of undergrads are
embracing the drug as a powerful study aid, the modern equivalent of
the "bennies" their parents popped while cramming for finals.

"The study rooms are as good as some of the local pharmacies here,"
said Dr. Eric Heiligenstein, clinical director of psychiatry at the
University of Wisconsin. "What ever happened to No-Doz?"

Even Congress is now taking a look at the problem. Last week, a House
panel heard testimony about the drug's widespread use - both legal and

Heiligenstein was one of the first to take a look at the trend, which
first surfaced in the mid-1990s. Hearing regular reports that Ritalin
was a study staple at prep schools throughout the Northeast,
Heiligenstein last summer decided to quiz Wisconsin students who had
prescriptions of the drug about their own usage.

What he found, after interviewing roughly 100 students, was that one
in five misused their Ritalin - upping their dosage without
permission, getting early refills, popping more pills during exam week.

Perhaps more shocking was that many Ritalin users wouldn't hesitate to
parcel their pills out to friends and roommates.

"I wasn't surprised it was abused," said Heiligenstein. "Students have
been using drugs to stay awake forever. We were more surprised at how
comfortable it seemed a part of the student culture."

Abuse of the drug has come as a growing number of children have been
diagnosed with ADD - and put on Ritalin to combat the ailment.
Production of the drug skyrocketed by more than 700 percent between
1990 and 1997 and the number of prescriptions continue to increase

"In general, adolescents who want to use (Ritalin) for any reason . .
. have little difficulty obtaining it," says one DEA report on the
drug. "They don't need to rob a drug store, forge a prescription or
make a visit to the local drug dealer."

Instead they just ask a friend who has a prescription. It's even
easier to bum a Ritalin from a roommate than it is to head down to
Store 24 for an over-the-counter stimulant like No-Doz.

"And this is much better than No-Doz," said Dr. Lawrence H. Diller,
author of the book "Running on Ritalin." "This is not just keeping you
up, this is getting you to (stay) focused, too. . . . It keeps you
sticking with things that are boring and you find difficult."

Ritalin is being used as more than just a study aid, however. Some
college girls might be using the drug to suppress their appetites,
hoping to stave off the infamous Freshman 15, while others are simply
crushing the pills and snorting the powder for a quick, easy,
cocainelike buzz.

Jonathan Messinger, a senior at Clark University in Worcester, said
one of his classmates freshman year not only took Ritalin while
studying, but would also snort the drug while partying.

"When he wanted to stay up late and party or whatever, he would take a
spoon and grind the pill up into powder form and then roll up a dollar
bill and use it to sniff up the Ritalin," Messinger said.

The latter was done in conjuction with dropping acid, Messinger said,
adding that the student ended up dropping out of Clark before the end
of their freshman year.

"Once you begin crushing it up and snorting it, it becomes a different
ball game," says Dr. Roger Weiss, clinical director of the alcohol and
drug abuse treatment program at McLean Hospital. "It's a much faster
addiction and intense kind of high.'

The issue of prescription drug abuse by college kids made headlines in
March following the overdose death of Trinity College senior Josh
Doroff, who was killed after ingesting a lethal mix of Xanax, Valium
and other legal medications.

Three of Doroff's friends - including William Bachman of Natick - were
sentenced to a year's worth of probation and community service for
their part in the drug binge.

But despite some media reports that portrayed a growing epidemic on
campus - with students gobbling up everything from painkillers to
anti-psychotic drugs like Thorazine - experts think prescription drug
abuse among college students is relatively rare.

"I wouldn't even call it a trend," said Judy Phalen, program director
for alcohol and other drug education at Northeastern University. "It's
fairly random and sporadic."

Dr. John Knight of Children's Hospital, an expert on drug abuse among
adolescents, agrees.

"I think it's quite uncommon compared to the other types of drug use
by young people," said Knight. "I've heard reports back from kids who
have had their (Ritalin) stolen when they go away to college, so it
does happen. But it's not common."

So far, the evidence that prescription drug abuse is spreading on
campus is strictly anecdotal. With old, illicit stalwarts like
marijuana and newer club drugs like ecstasy still much more popular,
no one has bothered to study how often kids reach for the medicine
cabinet when seeking a quick high.

"I know a lot of kids that are on Ritalin normally," a 1998 Boston
University graduate told the Sunday Herald. "And their roommates would
get some (from them) and snort it or whatever to study, but it wasn't
too prevalent. Most people just smoke pot."

But when prescription drugs are abused, studies have shown that
Ritalin is emerging as the pill of choice.

The University of Michigan's annual "Monitoring the Future" study,
which surveys teenagers about their drug use, shows that Ritalin is
growing in popularity. From 1988 to 1998, the percentage of seniors
who reported using the drug within the last year went from 0.3 percent
to 2.8 percent.

In Indiana, the numbers are even higher. A 1997 study of Hoosier State
high-schoolers showed that almost 7 percent reported using Ritalin for
nonmedical purposes in the previous year. And 2.5 percent reported
using it at least monthly.

Gretchen Feussner, a pharmacologist with the Drug Enforcement
Administration, says illicit use of Ritalin is probably even higher on
college campuses because parents of Ritalin users are no longer around
to supervise their kids.

"We have a lot of availability, and we have a lot of kids who are
aware of what this drug will do to them," said Feussner. "When you
have that combination without much oversight, you're going to have
what I think is pretty indiscriminate use of it."

While misuse of any medication is potentially dangerous, doctors say
the risk of overdosing on Ritalin is slight.

But Diller says the long-term dangers - namely, that Ritalin could
serve as a gateway drug that gets kids hooked on amphetamines - are
very real.

"The 1960s epitaph `speed kills' is accurate," Diller says. "It is by
all reckoning a very nasty addiction."
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