Students Take ADHD Drug to Boost Scores

ByABC News
November 15, 2004, 2:59 PM

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2004 -- -- Kevin Ngo, a Baylor University graduate now studying for the law school entrance exam, isn't leaving anything to chance. He is seeking help from a pill that's meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"There is something about Adderall that makes you concentrate, focus and makes whatever you're studying more interesting," he said.

More than 6.4 million prescriptions for Adderall were filled last year. Some of these prescriptions are being used by students seeking a quick fix for studying.

A Yale University junior said Adderall helped him read the 576-page novel "Crime and Punishment" and write a 15-page paper -- all in 30 hours.

"In earlier generations, people would take NoDoz and get themselves high on caffeine and that sort of thing," said the student, who asked not to be identified. "This is more efficient than that."

This student and others say they get the stimulant from fellow students who have legitimate prescriptions.

"I would say two-thirds of the student body has tried it for studying," one student wrote in a college chat room.

But Adderall does not work for everyone, and there may be risks involved for those who take it without consulting a doctor first. Doctors say it can increase heart rate, affect blood pressure and cause insomnia.

"It's an FDA-approved medication, so many people perceive it as safe. Whether it is or not for them to take is another issue," said Dr. Eric Heiligenstein, head of psychiatry for the University of Wisconsin health services.

Still, high school students are increasingly turning to the drug to help with SATs, according to Lisa Jacobson, chief executive officer of the tutoring company Inspirica.

"The reason it has come to my attention is that the parents ask me should they get it for their kid, and my answer is absolutely not. The answer is no," she said. "It is cheating with a capital 'C.' "

Heiligenstein says Adderall is an academic steroid.

"It's a very interesting parallel to what happens in athletics," he said. "In other words, [it's] why athletes on the starting line of a race will look around and say, 'Who's using and who's not. Do they have an unfair advantage?' "

Ngo doesn't think taking the drug gives him an unfair edge.