redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
At least one UK neuroscientist is recommending students be tested for drugs such as Ritalin before being allowed to take an academic test, in much the same way athletes are forced to undergo screenings for steroids and other performance-enhancing substances.
According to Josie Ensor and Rosa Silverman of The Telegraph, University of Cambridge professor Barbara Sahakian said medications, such as the widely-used ADHD treatment, are becoming increasingly used by students who obtain them illegally in order to help their performance on university exams or other essential academic activities.
“Academics say the number of students using the drugs has steadily risen over the last few years as they say the pressure to do well increased during the recession, with some students even faking symptoms of ADHD in order to get prescriptions of Ritalin,” Ensor and Silverman said.
“The British Psychological Society (BPS) has also launched an investigation into the growing prescription levels of the drug. There are fears that funding cuts for treatments such as counseling have led to an over reliance on medication,” they added. “A report by the Academy of Medical Sciences suggested that just a 10 percent improvement in memory could raise students one grade band at A-levels or into a different degree class.”
In a recent survey, it was revealed 10 percent of all students at Sahakian’s university had taken drugs such as Ritalin, Modanil and Adderall in order to gain an academic advantage. The Cambridge professor also told The Telegraph that an increasing number of students have been complaining to her and other faculty members that their fellow students have been using these types of substances and gaining an unfair advantage in the classroom.
“Many students have said that they feel it is cheating that some students use ‘smart drugs’ in exams. It is difficult for universities practically to address these issues, but they should have clear policy statements in regard to the use of cognitive enhancing drugs,” the professor told Ensor and Silverman. “Universities are yet to get a grip on the problem. While none seem to encourage its use, none do anything to actively dissuade students from using them. If there were random testing in exam situations, it should act as a deterrent.
“There have been many more people using the drug recently. It is logical that the easier it becomes for people to get hold of these drugs, the higher the number will become of people who take them,” she added. “Students feel under enormous pressure, particularly during exam time and when their coursework is due. Many of them feel they have to turn to the drugs to help them concentrate better and cram for tests.”
The problem is not unique to the UK. Last week, CBS New York reported more than one-third of all American college students had taken prescription medications like Ritalin or Adderall in order to help them study.
In response, New York Senator Chuck Schumer called upon administrators at colleges and universities in his state to enact tough policies restricting students from obtaining the pills without a prescription, said Stephen Adkins of the University Herald. In fact, Schumer estimated that as many as 64,000 students abuse these types of medications in New York City alone.
“This is not the first revelation on study drugs,” Adkins said. “A study conducted by University of Rhode Island in 2009 found that 60 percent of students knew about classmates who consumed study drugs. In 2011, the US Department of Health and Human Service assessed that 5 percent of people aged between 18 and 25 had taken psycho-therapeutic drugs like Adderall or Ritalin without a prescription.”
In addition to allegedly helping academic performance, Ritalin and other ADHD drugs have also been found to help improve the brain function in individuals addicted to cocaine. Not everyone buys into these claims, however, as earlier this month a study from researchers at the Universities of Princeton, Toronto and Cornell found children and adolescents who used the stimulant actually had worse academic outcomes, according to Lindsay Abrams of The Atlantic.