Illicit 'Study Drugs' Tempting More Students

ByABC News
June 2, 2005, 8:09 PM

June 2, 2005 -- -- Maggie is an "A" student at a top university -- highly motivated and determined to do well.

But when she recently allowed "Primetime Live" cameras to follow her during finals week, she asked not to have her real name or the school she was attending identified.

That's because Maggie is part of a fast-growing college subculture of study drugs -- hardcore prescription medications that give students hours and hours of almost superhuman focus and concentration.

"It just really makes me feel confident and peaceful with my studies and helps me retain the information that I am learning," she said.

The drugs are actually prescription medications like Ritalin and Adderall -- used to help people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder calm down and concentrate.

But the problem is, kids without disorders say they figured out the drugs affect them as well, to a radical degree.

They're "performance enhancing drugs, almost like academic steroids," said Dr. Eric Heiligenstein, head of psychiatry for the University of Wisconsin health services.

However, they come with dangers too. Heiligenstein says study drugs basically work like speed, with a powerful effect on the central nervous system. Adderall is essentially an amphetamine and Ritalin is an amphetamine-like substance. Even a normal dose can last 24 hours.

Kids who take the drugs report a buzzing sensation at first, then dry mouth, sometimes a loss of appetite -- but more than anything else, they feel they can study forever.

Maggie says the drugs give her an edge to keep her grades up. "I think that that psychology permeates through the entire library," she told "Primetime Live." "You can be here and you know, it's very open to talk and exchange about study drugs."

Some kids say it's easy to get a prescription after a brief consultation with a doctor.

One student named Brandon said all he had to do was fill out a true-false questionnaire of five to 10 questions. "Marked all of 10 of them true, and was prescribed," he said.