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National survey reveals conflicted mindset of college students about ADHD prescription stimulant misuse, abuse and diversion

A recent survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the newly-formed Coalition to Prevent Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Medication Misuse (CPAMM) finds that college students’ perceptions and attitudes towards the misuse, abuse and diversion of ADHD prescription stimulants are complex. The findings paint a portrait of students who recognize the risks of misuse, but understand why some students may choose to misuse, given the academic pressures in today’s college environment. CPAMM intends to use the findings to inform and develop educational campaigns to help prevent nonmedical use of ADHD prescription stimulants. The survey was conducted online between May 15 and June 11, 2014 among 2,056 US college students (full-time, 91%, part-time, 9%), defined as adults aged 18 to 24 enrolled and seeking a degree at a 4-year college or university and attending at least some in-person classes.1

Attitudes and perceptions about misuse, abuse and diversion

Based on the survey, college students consider taking ADHD prescription stimulant medications that were not prescribed to them to be unethical (75%), a form of cheating (when used for schoolwork)(59%), extremely/very harmful (73%) and a “big deal” (80%) if someone who doesn’t have ADHD uses prescription stimulants, with 65% likening the misuse of ADHD prescription stimulants to do schoolwork to athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs. However, almost one in four students (24%) do believe it is okay for someone who doesn’t have ADHD to use prescription stimulants for schoolwork, and 48% believe that students who misuse are just doing what they have to do to keep up with the pressures of college. In addition, 42% of students incorrectly believe that using ADHD prescription stimulants not prescribed to them is no more harmful than an energy drink or a strong cup of coffee.

Further, the majority of students believe the main drivers to start misusing ADHD prescription stimulants are a desire to get good grades (70%) and pressure to succeed (68%). Overall, 64% of students declare that they would “do anything to get an A,” and 29% admit they will do whatever it takes to succeed academically even if it requires breaking the rules.

“The survey shines a light on the stress permeating the lives of students on today’s college campuses.

We want to communicate as a Coalition that there are better, healthier ways to cope,” says John MacPhee, Executive Director and CEO of The Jed Foundation, a CPAMM partner. Another perception of note is that 75% of students believe at least some of their peers have used ADHD prescription stimulants not prescribed to them. Reported rates of actual nonmedical use vary, but a 2013 survey at one large public university indicated that 9.3 percent of college students reported nonmedical use of prescription stimulant medication in the past year.2