A new study in the journal Addiction backs up reports from campus health officials that prescription drugs designed to treat attention disorders are increasingly being used by college students as non-medical stimulants.

The study found that 7 percent of college students have used the drugs in that way, and that 4 percent have used them that way in the last year. Rates varied widely among individual campuses — from 0 to 25 percent. The lowest rates of this drug use (all 0) were found at the three historically black colleges in the survey.

The study also found that:

  • Colleges with highly competitive admissions and colleges in the Northeast have higher rates of stimulant use.
  • White students are more likely than minority students to use the drugs.
  • Men are nearly twice as likely as women to use the drugs.
  • Students with grade-point averages of B or lower were twice as likely to use the drugs as were students with B-plus or higher averages.
  • Students using these stimulants are 20 times more likely than other students to have used cocaine, and 5 times more likely than other students to have driven after heavy drinking.

A summary of the findings released by the University of Michigan stressed that the researchers were not suggesting that use of prescription stimulants — Ritalin, Dexedrine and Adderall — was a bad thing if used under medical guidelines. The problem is with students using the drugs for non-medical reasons.

“Any intervention aimed at reducing non-medical use will have to take into consideration that prescription stimulants are a highly effective and safe medication for most individuals with ADHD,” said Sean Esteban McCabe, the lead author of the study. “Given the proven therapeutic efficacy of prescription stimulants for the treatment of ADHD, there is a need to balance the medical necessity of these drugs and the risk for non-medical use and abuse.”

The study follows numerous anecdotal reports from campus health officials about students endangering themselves by using these stimulants even though they they do not have prescriptions for them, or about students with prescriptions using the drugs together with alcohol or other drugs.

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