During the final weeks of the semester, nearly anyone on the Keene State College campus will admit to being overworked and under-caffeinated, with papers, projects, and exams galore.
But what most won’t own up to is the prescription drug abuse that helps ease some of that stress.
Freshman Sam Sharp admitted to taking Adderall, which is usually prescribed for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
She said it helps her maintain the focus necessary to finish the papers that get piled on at the end of the semester.
But Sharp doesn’t have a prescription.
“I only take ten to 15 milligrams,” Sharp said. She said she believes she has ADHD, “so it actually works for me.”
But as a student living far away from home, she hasn’t been able to go back to her doctor in her home state of Alaska to get a prescription.
According to a 2009 survey, Sharp isn’t alone.
The survey showed 14.3 percent of KSC students take stimulants, like Adderall, without a prescription.
According to Christine Burke, the director of the Center for Health and Wellness, KSC administers the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment roughly every three years to gain insight on the college’s health all around, including prescription drug abuse.
“It tells us about our own students,” she said, “but also gives us something to compare it to.”
The assessment is used across the country and gives KSC the opportunity to look at both the campus’ own results as well as national averages. Burke said KSC is due to administer the assessment again this fall, which will appear to students through a MyKSC survey.
According to Burke, when asked in 2009, “Within the last 12 months, have you taken any of the following that were not prescribed to you?,” 4 percent said they had taken antidepressants, 11.7 percent said they had taken painkillers, 7.2 percent said they had taken sedatives, and 14.3 percent said they had taken stimulants.
“We’re talking more than one out of ten students are using,” Burke said. “Drugs that require a prescription require a prescription for a reason.”
Sharp said students likely abuse the prescription medications because they’re so available.
“It’s all over the dorms. People are willing to sell it, or give it away really,” Sharp said.
“You just have to know the right people.”
Burke said taking prescription drugs can be dangerous for multiple reasons.
First, she said drugs are prescribed to patients because a doctor decides the benefits outweigh the risks.
For individuals self-prescribing, the risks have not been evaluated and the drugs could have adverse effects that an individual may not even know about.
She also added that dosage is important in correctly using drugs, and students are not qualified to determine what dosage is appropriate.
She said this is most critical with painkillers because they’re so addictive and high doses can lead to very high dependency.
Brian Quigley, the director of the Counseling Center, echoed Burke’s warnings, and said prescription stimulants aren’t the same as drinking a cup of coffee or an energy drink.
They’re prescribed because they affect individuals differently and can have adverse effects.
“I think that our culture has come to see the use of stimulant medications being used under non-prescription circumstances as being normal,” he said.
“I would say that we as the professionals haven’t been as proactive. We’re a little bit behind in making sure people are knowledgeable and understand the risks,” Quigley said.
Despite the numbers, Burke said KSC is not unusual, but follows the national trends. She said numbers have increased over the years, but that’s because more people are on prescription drugs, making them more accessible.
“We do have more students legally on prescription medications than in the past,” Burke said.
“I think that’s been a slow progression over the past 10 years.”
According to Quigley, students between the ages of 18 to 22 years old are twice as likely to abuse prescription drugs than individuals of the same age who aren’t in school. He said because of the added stresses on students, especially during finals, and the effectiveness of the drugs, students use them. Rian Rabideau, the residence hall director for Owl’s Nests and One Butler Court, said he saw more prescription drug abuse while he was in Holloway, a first-year building.
But even in his new location this year, he said students have talked to him about their prescription drug abuse.
“I think when students are in a conduct meeting it feels different,” Rabideau said, noting that the students who have talked to him about their prescription drug abuse have done so in one-on-one sessions.
The largest issue he said he sees is that students have to seek help and have to want to find a solution.
“Until they really admit to it and get help, it’s not going to work,” Rabideau said of some of the outreach programs and referrals that RDs can suggest for students.
Allie Bedell can be contacted at
Graphic by Chelsea Nickerson / Graphics Editor