Understanding and Addressing Stimulant Misuse on College Campuses

Across the country, nearly 20 million college students are preparing for the new academic term. The college experience comes with many new transitions – it’s important for school administrators, students, and their families to be prepared to manage these transitions to create an environment and campus climate that nurtures student success. 

One such preparation is addressing the topic of prescription drug safety on campus, including prescription stimulants. 

Data from government surveys on drug use show that stimulant use is climbing. While increased misuse and abuse of prescription stimulants has gone largely unnoticed in the general population, a 2018 report from The Ohio State University shows that the rates of misuse or abuse of prescription stimulants among college students is about 75% higher than that of other classes of medications, and more than 1-in-4 college students say that prescription stimulants are somewhat easy or very easy to obtain.

“Prescription stimulant misuse is a somewhat underground, but prevalent, problem. A lot of students misuse stimulants – they may take them to stay up all night studying and then do it again for the next exam. The usage really picks up during mid-terms and finals week,” says Juniata College student Cat Lanigan. “It’s so common for a student to slip a teammate or friend their ADHD medication – they think they’re being helpful. I don’t think the majority of students realize the consequences.”

This attitude on campus is dangerous and has real implications for student academic and social success. While the students seem to be somewhat relaxed about sharing medications, the truth is that it is illegal according to both state and federal laws.

“Studies show that when students take stimulants that aren’t prescribed to them or when they misuse their own prescriptions to help them study, it can have adverse effects and in some cases can have negative implications on their academic outcomes,” says Gina Firth, Associate Dean of Wellness at The University of Tampa, referencing recent studies like this one conducted by researchers at The University of Rhode Island and Brown University.

With so much at stake, campuses need tools that support population-level prevention programming. Tools like the Prescription Drug Safety program for colleges aim to build a foundation of understanding for students on the risks associated with drug misuse and abuse and give students the skills to step in and intervene in situations involving drug misuse or abuse. 

Amber Blue, another Juniata student, offers, “Programs like these are definitely helpful and can help bridge the gap of what we haven’t learned in high school and what campus really looks like. Learning how addiction occurs and what happens to your brain and your body under the influence of drugs — that kind of knowledge makes it easy to make better decisions.”

Through the support from partners in the Prescription Drug Safety Network, colleges and universities nationwide have access to this digital resource at no cost. “We can’t do it alone – support from community partners who provide funding for important initiatives like this make a big difference,” Gina Firth shares. 

The Prescription Drug Safety course is free to colleges and universities – email info@everfi.com to connect with an EVERFI representative who can help you get started!

This blog was reviewed by Adlon Therapeutics, a member of the Prescription Drug Safety Network.