Sunday, June 10, 2012

Academic Steroids

Seeking Academic Edge, Teenagers Abuse Stimulants:

At high schools across the United States, pressure over grades and competition for college admissions are encouraging students to abuse prescription stimulants, according to interviews with students, parents and doctors. Pills that have been a staple in some college and graduate school circles are going from rare to routine in many academically competitive high schools, where teenagers say they get them from friends, buy them from student dealers or fake symptoms to their parents and doctors to get prescriptions.

“It’s throughout all the private schools here,” said DeAnsin Parker, a New York psychologist who treats many adolescents from affluent neighborhoods like the Upper East Side. “It’s not as if there is one school where this is the culture. This is the culture.”
Observed Gary Boggs, a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, “We’re seeing it all across the United States.” 

The D.E.A. lists prescription stimulants like Adderall and Vyvanse (amphetamines) and Ritalin and Focalin (methylphenidates) as Class 2 controlled substances — the same as cocaine and morphine — because they rank among the most addictive substances that have a medical use. (By comparison, the long-abused anti-anxiety drug Valium is in the lower Class 4.) So they carry high legal risks, too, as few teenagers appreciate that merely giving a friend an Adderall or Vyvanse pill is the same as selling it and can be prosecuted as a felony.
What's interesting is that the article makes it seem like this is only a problem at the high school level. In fact, students continue to use these academic PED's (Performance Enhancing Drugs) while in college and beyond (I've heard students joking about "the Addie" for at least a decade or so). The "edge" they feel it gives them at the high school level must be maintained at the college level or else failure sets in.

We talk about this in some of my classes and I routinely ask them if athletes should be allowed to use steroids (PED's) for athletic competition. Most students routinely say no. Then why, I ask, should many of you be allowed to use these academic PED's, such as Adderall or Focalin, and isn't that basically cheating? Followed by the blank stare.
Asked if the improper use of stimulants was cheating, students were split. Some considered that the extra studying hours and the heightened focus during exams amounted to an unfair advantage. Many countered that the drugs “don’t give you the answers” and defended their use as a personal choice for test preparation, akin to tutoring.
Right, except for the fact that the student on the drug who gets a 95 is probably no better than a C student off the drug. It most definitely "gives you the answer," just as steroids give certain athletes "the answer" in competition. How is that not a form of cheating?

But it's not just the students who are at fault here. It's a "get ahead at any cost" culture supported by the psychiatric-industrial complex, Big Pharma, and parents who feel it's ok to drug their children to a brighter future.
A number of teenagers interviewed laughed at the ease with which they got some doctors to write prescriptions for A.D.H.D.  Many youngsters with prescriptions said their doctors merely listened to their stories and took out their prescription pads. Dr. Hilda R. Roque, a primary-care physician in West New York, N.J., said she never prescribed A.D.H.D. medicine but knew many doctors who did. She said many parents could push as hard for prescriptions as their children did, telling her: “My child is not doing well in school. I understand there are meds he can take to make him smarter.”

“I lie to my psychiatrist — I expressed feelings I didn’t really have, knowing the consequences of it,” said [one high school pusher], standing in a park a few miles from the high school. “I tell the doctor, ‘I find myself very distracted, and I feel this really deep pain inside, like I’m anxious all the time,’ or something like that.” 

He coughed out a chuckle and added proudly, “Generally, if you keep playing the angsty-teen role, you’ll get something good.” 
Which shows the general subjectivity, randomness and arbitrariness of psychiatry and its "disorders" like ADHD, Bi-Polar and (fill in the blank). It also suggests we are legitimizing the cottage-industry of teen age drug pushers who are peddling legal drugs.

And what responsibility does the drug industry bear in all this? Check out this response from a Big Pharma stooge (er, representative).
A spokesman for Shire, which manufactures Vyvanse and Adderall’s extended-release capsules, said studies had shown no link between prescribed use of those drugs and later abuse. 

Dr. Jeff Jonas, Shire’s senior vice president for research and development, said that the company was greatly concerned about the misuse of its stimulants but that the rate was very small. “I’m not aware of any systematic data that suggests there’s a widespread problem,” he said. “You can always find people who testify that it happens.” 
LOL. Because nothing says "greatly concerned" like trivializing those who come forward to illustrate the extent of the problem (which the "systematic data" show is up to 40% of teenagers).

Sadly, the comments from some of the students indicate that these "best and brightest" really are just a product of the drug, and are merely taking up seats in our more prestigious universities.
Many teenagers barely know that what they often call “study drugs” are in fact illegal amphetamines.
“Isn’t it just like a vitamin?” asked one high school junior from Eastchester, a suburb of New York. 
Sadly, this kid probably has a 4.0 gpa, perfect SAT and is on his way to the Ivy's.

What is the solution? Short of a banning psycho-pharmacology for non-existent behavioral disorders, your options are limited. Though I'm loathe to advocate it, drug testing for academics could certainly be an option. Schools could easily start requiring students to pee in a cup before big examinations, just as we do athletes before big games. You wouldn't have to worry about lawsuits since the legal apparatus allowing teens to be drug tested for school-related activities has been long-settled by the Supreme Court over the years (see also: New Jersey v. T.L.O [1985], Veronia School District v. Acton [1995], Board of Education v. Earls [2002]). 

It's also something you could institute at the college and university level (as we do for college athletes), though I certainly wouldn't relish the idea of collecting urine samples during finals. "Thanks for a great semester, Professor Krohn, here's my paper and my pee."

But clearly we're reaching a Rubicon of sorts with this problem. If baseball had its "steroid era" back in the 90's and early 00's, then we're in a steroid era of academics in our high schools and universities. 

The net result is our colleges and universities are filling with students whose qualification to be there is the result of academic steroids and cheating. And the kids who really do belong there, who aren't doping and aren't cheating, are not getting the seats that are deservedly theirs.

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