Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The prevention problem with so-called "enhancement" drugs

I wrote this about a week ago for the White House (as in yes, that White House).  They requested blog-like information about NMPDU which is the acronym for non-medical prescription drug use.  I'm like "I have a blog on NMPDU! This should be easy."

The catch: only 200 words, which is totally hard.  But I got close (below):

Last week CNN featured an article on college students who take ADHD drugs to improve their grades.  The article featured a college student, Jared, who enthusiastically used Adderall without a prescription to successfully raise his GPA.  Though this was a self-reported sample of one, let’s assume this was empirically true.

The article was counterbalanced by an unsurprising litany of researchers and experts, who were more cautionary about the alarming trends occurring on campuses nationwide, which include real psychological and physiological risks associated with prescription stimulant misuse and abuse.

I first became aware of this piece after several esteemed drug prevention colleagues in college student health responded with collective outrage, ostensibly to the resultant tone of the article: a mélange of prevention speak obfuscated by the testimonial of a single student who essentially said that Adderall is awesome.

From a prevention standpoint, articles like this may be irresponsible.  On the other hand, it is all essentially true.  Therein lies the problem with stimulant medications: students seem to love them, and research to date is relatively ambivalent about their risks and benefits.
We have a problem in drug prevention when speaking truthfully about an issue becomes self-defeating.  With alleged “enhancement” drugs, we are already there.  Acknowledging the conflict between prevention and our elementally human temptation to enhance is a necessary first step before real dialogue and meaningful prevention can occur.

Ross Aikins recently received his Ph.D. in Education from UCLA studying collegiate enhancement drug use.  He is the Chair-Elect of The American College Health Association’s Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Coalition.


  1. I don't know if it ran yet, or even IF it'll run. Occasionally I get requests to submit stuff that is ultimately never used, which is the nice thing about the blog: I can ALWAYS post whatever I want.