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How common is Adderall misuse on college campuses?

Adderall in a prescription pill bottle.
Wikimedia Commons

Ohio State University said a second student has died after reportedly overdosing earlier this week.

The university hasn't said the exact cause of death, but they did issue a statement warning about the dangers of fentanyl-laced Adderall.

Adderall is a prescription medication classified as a stimulant usually used to treat conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

But for some students, Adderall is seen as a way to boost academic performance, especially during finals.

Aleah Holly is a first-year law student at OSU. She said while she's never thought about misusing stimulants to do better in class, she can understand why her peers might.

"I know for me, as a law student, we have a lot of work, and all of our grade is dependent on a final exam. So I could definitely see like classmates feeling the need in order to prepare for a final exam that is their entire grade," Holly said.

A 2018 study conducted by the OSU Office of Student Life and the College of Pharmacy looked at non-medical prescription drug use at colleges across the county.

The study found that only about 15% of students surveyed reported ever misusing stimulants like Adderall.

"While 15% may misuse, that means that 85% of your peers have never misused the medication in their lifetime. So it's certainly not the majority of college students that misuse," said Molly Downing, a senior lecturer in the OSU College of Pharmacy.

Columbus Public Health officials say the drugs the students who died took were "fake" Adderall pills, which appear to contain fentanyl.

Dr. Mysheika Roberts, Health Commissioner for Columbus Public Health, said it's a growing problem.

"The street manufacturers are very good at creating counterfeit pills that look like the real Adderall, can be stamped correctly and everything, but they're not."

The bottom line, Dr. Roberts said: Don't take anything that's not prescribed by your doctor and don't take anything that you didn't get from a pharmacy.

If people do experiment with drugs, Dr. Roberts said they should use fentanyl test strips, carry Naloxone in case of an overdose, and never use alone.

You can read a safety message from OSU's Office of Student Life on Drug & Alcohol usage here.

Matthew Rand is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher.