Monday, April 26, 2010

Steroids for Students

And for professors, apparently:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

I can't get the clip to embed, so click on the link to watch the 60 Minutes story.

Those of us who have worked on college campuses have heard anecdotal evidence for years now that drugs like Adderal, Ritalin and other amphetamines were used at finals time or paper crunch time. In that sense, the next two weeks should be a busy time for pushers across the country.

I found the charge made by the economist, that academics and members of other professions are "routinely" using these kinds of drugs for performance-enhancement to be suspect. He neither offers evidence to make such a charge, nor backs up the claim beyond what he has supposedly "heard" (which is kind of standard whenever economists start analyzing social behavior).

And the assertion made by the psychologist, that we should be "embracing" this trend as some kind of new frontier for the development of the mind, was both beyond irresponsible and smacking of some retro-Baby Boomer cliche from the 60's. Kind of difficult to "tune in, turn on and drop out" when these drugs have been shown, by the other psychiatrist's research in the clip, to kill creativity and critical thinking.

Other aspects of the clip were troubling. If the one prof's research is to be believed, 30%-40% of undergraduates are popping Adderal at certain times in the academic year in order to "boost performance." I'm surprised Katie Couric didn't follow that up with "so what's the difference between that and professional athletes popping human growth hormones or other steroids?" Because as I see it, there is no difference.

This is, perhaps, more an issue of social class. Because college students are disproportionately from the upper middle classes, Big Pharma makes a killing off the marketing and pushing of these drugs to a monied clientele. Ironic that amphetamine use to boost academic prowess is viewed as acceptable (or at least, "not a big deal,") but methamphetamine use by the working classes lands them in prison. Using labeling theory, is there really a difference between snorting meth and snorting Adderal, beyond the obvious class distinctions?

Overall, I think the story missed the proverbial thousand pound elephant in the room. When Katie Couric asked "is it easy to fake the symptoms of ADHD?" in order to get a 'scrip for Adderal, it would have been hilarious if the student had said "I'm sorry, what was the question?" The ongoing march towards medicalizing every possible deviant behavior we can think of, and our pathological reliance on Big Pharma for solutions, was completely ignored.

Until we reign in the psychiatric-industrial complex, we shouldn't be too surprised that college students are innovating their way to good grades, or professors gaining writing books, while on speed. They're just taking advantage of a perverse psychiatric system that operates with impunity in our society.

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