UHS aims to curb study drug use with new campaign

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Amanda Colbert

Some students misuse prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin, known as “study drugs,” to get better grades. A new University Health Services campaign aims to inform and educate students about them.

According to pharmacy professor emeritus Carlton Erickson, study drugs don’t help you learn and come with many harmful side effects.

“People use study drugs so they can study longer and presumably get higher grades,” Erickson said. “But this idea of performance enhancing is really riddled with a lot of problems.”

Your performance and grades are not enhanced due to the phenomenon of state-dependent learning, where you learn something under the drug state and are less likely to recall it when you get out of the drug state, Erickson said.

On top of students possibly not remembering what they studied, there are several potential side effects to taking study drugs.

“Side effects of Ritalin and Adderall could be rapid heartbeat, feeling too high, anxious, occasionally seizures, shakiness and tremors,” Erickson said. “And the problem with college students taking these drugs is unless they have taken them for quite a while, they don’t know what the side effects will be.”

Prescription stimulant misuse is a problem on college campuses, so a campaign targeting study drug misuse started several years ago, said Mandy Colbert, UHS health promotion coordinator.

That campaign involved colorful, eye-catching posters that depict students studying in libraries or at desks, totally naked, according to Colbert. It was fittingly named “Study Natural.”

Jessica Hughes Wagner, founder of the campaign, who now works as an assistant director for the Center for Health Communications, said student surveys showed that students are pushed to use stimulants because they feel like everyone else is using them to get better grades and they don’t want to fall behind. This is a perceived “norm” that Wagner said the campaign aimed to shift.

“We knew from our data that between 7 and 25 percent misuse stimulants — which is still too high — but it means the vast majority of students aren’t doing it,” Wagner said. “So we want to shift the norm to healthy behavior — UT students study natural.”

UT recently participated in a 2018 health survey conducted by Ohio State University, which found 17.5 percent of UT students said they have used prescription stimulants non-medically.

“This (statistic) is way above depressants and pain medications, and it’s also way above the rate of prescription stimulant misuse at other public and private institutions,” Colbert said.

A group of pharmacy students is currently doing research on public health to give an update to the campaign, Colbert said.

“We’re partnering with some pharmacy students that are looking through current research, conducting more interviews to develop an update on the campaign,” Colbert added.

Janci Addison is one of the third year pharmacy students working on the public health communication project. She said misuse of stimulants has risen, prompting a reboot of the campaign.

“Across a decade, since the first ‘Study Natural’ campaign started in 2011, the number of students misusing has doubled,” Addison said. “It is just going up, because people are desperate to make good grades.”

After completing their research, the pharmacy students plan to meet with the community to get ideas of how to start up ‘Study Natural’ with fresh ideas, Addison said.

“It’s great that so many people recognize that prescription abuse is an issue, and we’re going to come together and figure out a way that we can combat the problem,” Addison said. “We still have a lot to do but we’re excited to see where it goes.”