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Is abusing ADHD medication a form of cheating?

For years now we’ve seen studies that show a significant number of college students are illegally using ADHD medications in an attempt to make better grades. This has sparked a moral debate about the non-medical use of such psychostimulants as a form of cheating. Duke University enacted a new policy this year taking a formal side on that debate.

Students at Duke University received an e-mail on September 2nd stating:

“The unauthorized use of prescription medications—particularly drugs used in the treatment of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder such as Ritalin or Adderall—in order to improve or enhance academic performance is now considered cheating as well as a violation of drug policy.”

In the past, the use of such drugs without a prescription was only a violation under the University’s drug policy.

Stephen Bryan, the associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct, said,”There have been discussions about this policy for the past two years and it has all been driven by the students, not the administration.”

Bryan said he understood the difficulty of enforcing such a policy and that is was mainly a symbolic gesture to show that the University considers such drug use to be dishonest academic conduct.

"I don’t think this policy will change anything," said Helen Gilles, a junior at Duke University. "The people who are taking these [ADHD] medications are already disregarding the drug policy." Gilles said that most of the people she knows who abuse ADHD medications get it from friends who have a prescription. Currently, amphetamines such as Adderall are only used to treat Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and narcolepsy.

"The non-medical use of prescription stimulants among U.S. college students is now at its highest level in 15 years,"said Sean Esteban McCabe, a research associate professor at the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center and Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

This national trend holds true locally as well: a web-based survey of students at UNC-Greensboro and at Duke showed that 10% were taking stimulants for non-medical use. Currently Ninety percent of these students perceived such use to be beneficial despite over 70% reporting adverse reactions such as headaches, difficulty sleeping and irritability.

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