Today’s undergraduates could be tomorrow’s addicted workers as the use of performance-enhancing 'smart drugs’ rises.
Once upon a time, students would knock back a strong cafetiere of coffee or even pop a few Pro Plus pills to boost revision. But that was before the “smart drug” class of 2013 came along.
Figures published yesterday show that soaring numbers of today’s scholars are abusing prescribed drugs designed to boost concentration in order to keep revising for hours on end.
The annual report of the Care Quality Commission, which monitors controlled substances, says prescriptions for methylphenidate drugs, including Ritalin, which are used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), have risen by 56 per cent in the past five years. In 2012, GPs in England wrote 657,000 prescriptions for the drugs, compared to 420,000 in 2007.
While worrying enough, these figures fail to include the rocketing numbers of students who are ordering other prescription-only “smart drugs” in bulk from the internet (often from India), before selling them or sharing them with friends on campus. Such is the pressure to get top grades and secure a job in an increasingly competitive workplace, students today will take anything they can get their hands on.
A survey last year estimated that 10 per cent of students at Cambridge University have admitted using “enhancers” to help them with work. The smart drug Modafinil — which is prescribed for narcolepsy — is said to be rife there. Prof Barbara Sahakian, a neuroscientist at the university who has written a new book on the ethics of smart drugs, believes students should now even be subject to pre-exam drug tests.
Prof Sahakian is regularly approached by students who say they feel under pressure to take the drugs for fear of falling behind their peers. After giving a lecture earlier this year at Prince William’s former university, St Andrew’s, she was told by one student that smart drugs were even being passed around in the library. Apart from the health risks of taking unregulated drugs — the long-term effects of which remain unknown — and the worry that people are becoming psychologically dependent on them, this growing peer pressure is of huge concern to academics.
“I first took Modafinil during my finals after all of my friends had been talking about it,” says one 24-year-old who graduated from Cambridge University in 2010. “I found the best way was to set your alarm really early, take one, go back to sleep and then after about 40 minutes, it kicks in. It’s kind of like having tunnel vision for around 14 hours, you can focus on one task and you don’t get distracted. It keeps you awake at the expense of eating and talking to other people.
“My appetite was completely suppressed, and I found I was irritable when people spoke to me. You wouldn’t want to socialise under the influence of Modafinil. Initially, I bought a 24-pack, but eventually bought around 200. I sold them around my college for £2 a pill when they were costing me about 50p each.”
Ritalin is a class B drug, the possession of which without a prescription can lead to up to five years in prison. A person can be sentenced to up to 14 years in jail for supplying the drug. Not that students seem to mind the risks. One current PhD student at Sussex University says he knows an ADHD sufferer who is deliberately faking worse symptoms than he actually has in order to get prescribed more of the drug, which he then sells on campus for £2 a pill.
“He told me it was flying out. You could sell as much as you wanted to. Because it’s a prescribed drug, people have very different views on it. Those I know who use it wouldn’t take any other drugs at all. If you’re going for a degree now, there is real pressure on getting good grades because of the difficulty of finding a job in the outside world. Often I will meet friends on their way to the library and you can tell if they have taken it or not. They just seem more relaxed and composed. That is the main reason why I haven’t done it. People are creating this mentality where the drug is their strength, and it affects your focus if you are not doing it. I have been tempted, of course, but to me that is the big risk.”
As for Modafinil, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says it is legal to buy the drug online but illegal to supply it without a prescription — though an MHRA spokesman says the Home Office is currently looking at the guidelines. One English-based supplier offers 50 200mg tablets for £124.99, or a “year’s supply” of 360 tablets for £699.99. Indian websites peddle the drug for far less.
Another recent Cambridge graduate says that students often club together to buy the drugs in bulk on one debit card.
Our growing reliance on smart drugs is, it seems, a custom being imported from the other side of the Atlantic, where a recent survey found that 70 per cent of Americans now take at least one prescription medication. As today’s students graduate to tomorrow’s business executives, the concern is that the reliance on these smart drugs will continue into working life and become as entrenched in our society.
“You can see how people will think these drugs have worked for them in the past, now they will work for them in the future,” says Prof Sahakian.
Perhaps it is time we really started paying attention.
source : www.telegraph.co.uk
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