The following is a guest column by Marilyn G. Belmonte of the Burlington Drug & Alcohol Task Force:
When you hear the term “Performance-Enhancing Drugs”, you probably think of sports. But students are now using prescription drugs to compete for better grades. These “smart pills” are being touted as common-place and acceptable in news articles in many well known publications. A group of scientists in a 2008 editorial in Nature encouraged the use of "cognitive enhancers" to produce a nation of people performing at their best.
Are they doing our children a disservice by taking this casual attitude about this form of drug abuse?
If we accept this behavior as normal, are we breeding a generation of winners? Or cheaters?
Children are learning that success comes not by hard work, but by taking shortcuts. In recent studies, young people say that using drugs to improve grades is less dangerous than steroid use in sports. But performance-enhancing drugs for sports and academics are equally unhealthy and unfair.
According to the Partnership at Drugfree.org, one in ten teens use Adderall or Ritalin without a doctor's prescription. One in four college students misuse ADHD medications. Students abuse prescription stimulant drugs to enhance their focus and boost their energy, in order to study longer and remember more.
But abusing prescription stimulant drugs cause serious medical problems such depression, severe mood swings, exhaustion, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and psychosis. In large doses, users may experience convulsions, hallucinations and heart attacks.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has classified ADHD medications including Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin and Focalin, as Schedule II controlled substances, just like cocaine. Teens who abuse ADHD meds are more likely to abuse prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, sleep aids, cocaine, meth or heroin.
If drugs are needed to achieve academic goals, perhaps we need to change our definition of intelligence. Our children need to know that we will love them for doing their best. They need not be THE best to make us proud. Their emotional health and physical well-being is just as important as grades and the name of their college. One day, when their school days are behind them, will they be addicted to prescription drugs or healthy, productive adults?
Marilyn Belmonte is a teen substance abuse prevention expert who founded Healthy Outcomes, Inc., a non-profit organization, that helps communities to reduce underage drinking and teen drug use. Marilyn is a Co-Chairperson of the Drug and Alcohol Task Force in Burlington, Massachusetts. Her work has received national recognition from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for her innovative parent prevention workshops.