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Why the odds are against Chuck Schumer's Adderall crackdown
The senator aims to curb the use of ADHD drugs for "academic doping"
 
Chuck Schumer suggests strung-out students try coffee or NoDoz for those late nights.
Chuck Schumer suggests strung-out students try coffee or NoDoz for those late nights. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is urging colleges to step up their efforts to stamp out "academic doping," in which students ingest stimulants commonly prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to cram for tests and complete their assignments. Studies suggest that as many as 30 percent of students on some campuses have used the drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin, to stay awake and increase their focus during crunch time.

Schumer held a news conference Sunday to urge New York colleges and universities "to start being careful" about overprescribing the drugs, which have become readily available even to students who don't have prescriptions. Doctors say Adderall abuse exposes students to the dangers of addiction and abuse, which can lead to depression and even psychosis.

"There are better ways to pull an all-nighter and stay up," Schumer said, holding up a prescription bottle in one hand and a Starbucks cup in the other. "There's coffee, there's things like NoDoz."

Parents and students were skeptical that scolding from Washington would do much good. Madeleine Davies at Jezebel says if students want to use Adderrall, they'll find a way to get it. "They'll get it from their little brothers or dorm mates or off-campus physicians because where there's a frantic college brain will, there's a frantic college brain way. Telling students that they should rely on caffeine and other over the counter stimulants hardly seems like the answer."

It's not hard to find young people who will confirm that they have popped an Adderall or two to help get through marathon study sessions. Some have done it just once or twice, but even that carries dangers.

"If you're using Adderall for any reason other than for attention deficit disorder you're basically using speed," Dr. Samuel Altstein of Beth Israel Medical Group tells NY1.

Stamping out abuse of addictive drugs may be a long shot. But John Sirico at Village Voice notes that Schumer has at least called attention to a very real problem. "Take it from a newly post-grad student like myself," Sirico says. "One person's prescription can equal 10 others' use."

And Schumer is right about another thing. "Sources (myself)," Sirico says, "can confirm that" coffee and NoDoz really can do the trick.

 
Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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