By Ned Wicker The CBS News 60 Minutes presentation on the use of prescription medication to boost brain power and results on college campuses was certainly an eye-opener for me. We often associate these medications for the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but rather than being used to calm a child or help a child focus, they are being used by students, who desire the effects of the drug to enable them to focus for long periods of time, to do research papers or cram for exams. Take a pill and you will get a better grade. It’s an interesting topic. I don’t want to get into the clinical side of this discussion, because there is a great deal of documentation on the effects of stimulants, such as Adderall and Ritalin, which are the most common among an assortment of other brand names. The ethical side of the discussion is far more interesting to me, because we live in a society that demands instant gratification, so if I can do better on a test by taking a pill, I should take the pill. Television is filled with ads telling you that you DESERVE something and you deserve it NOW. It doesn’t talk about Substance Abuse Addiction. Students want to study all night for an exam, or over-the-road truckers need to drive hundreds of miles to maintain a schedule, or writers are feeling the pressure of doing research and producing a document on a deadline. The push for success, the need to accomplish tasks drives us to cut corners, and we are susceptible to any easy way to do something that otherwise would require harder effort. I am reminded of, “Flowers for Algernon,” a short story and later a novel written by Daniel Keyes, which tell the transformation of Charlie, a developmentally disabled adult, who through a medical procedure, becomes a genius. While his advance from being very limited intellectually to being smarter and more capable than the doctors who worked with him, it is sadly the story of a candle that flickers brightly and soon burns out. Charlie reverts back to being the man he was. It was not meant to be. Just because a stimulant medication can provide a short-term solution to a problem, does not necessarily mean that its use is without consequences. What are the long-term effects of these medications? Are they addictive? According to Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Adderall and Ritalin are so addictive that they are classified with cocaine. Both drugs can cause heart and blood pressure issues. Volkow says the drugs are abused, and when crushed and snorted, give the user a quick high. Using the drugs without a prescription, i.e. a doctor’s care, can lead to addiction. Volkow adds that the long-term effects of these drugs on people without attention deficit, the developing brains of young people, is still unknown. Reporter Katie Couric asked, “What would you say to college students who think this is no big deal at all, that they can self-medicate and they have it completely under control?” “We all want to believe that we are under control to justify whatever we want to do. The reality is there are side effects of these drugs. One of them is addiction. But another one can be psychosis. So it’s not worth the risk to be playing with a drug that has potentially very adverse effects. Addiction is not a pretty face,” Volkow replied. Adding to the pressure of “making the grade” that so many college students experience, is the pressure of a 24/7 society. Stores are open 9-to-9 or later, seven days a week. Television stations used to go dark for a few hours, but not anymore. Just go into a Las Vegas casino at 3:00 in the morning and it’s like 3:00 in the afternoon. People don’t stop to relax. As a society we are entirely over-scheduled. Every minute of every day people are scheduled for something, between work, shuffling the kids off to their activities and taking part in community events. We don’t have time for anything. We revere higher education and success; But at what cost? Corporate America is, in all too many cases, a despicable snake pit. The best and the brightest get ahead and step on the rest. It rewards mediocrity and becomes a breeding ground for the amoral. Is getting an “A” through the illegal use of prescription medication worth that much? If you get a “B” or even a “C” are you incapable of advancing yourself through professional performance, accomplishment and hard work? Do you need a pill to do all these things? A small percentage of people are actually diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, and they may or may not receive a prescription for medication. That’s another problem. They may not use all the medication, so that which is left over is sold. That’s how students get the drugs. One student also told Couric that it’s easy to get diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, and so it becomes a simple matter of going to a doctor for a prescription. The student says you tell of the symptoms and in 80 percent of the cases, you can score the drugs. Maybe doctors need to do some additional testing, and I am sure there are many who do not hand out prescriptions because it’s the easy way out. We have lost our way. Get better now by taking a pill. Even if we are not addicted to the pills, we are addicted to the benefits. We want more. We want better. In the process, we lose ourselves, our humanity. For more about Substance Abuse Addiction
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