Psychostimulant drugs, such as Ritalin and Concerta, are used to treat children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. These drugs actually have a paradoxical, calming effect on people with ADHD and they are among the most prescribed medication in the country. However, in recent years, a growing number of healthy students have used the drugs as “study drugs” to help give them a boost in their schoolwork. According to CNN, a recent paper published in the American Academy of Neurology argues that doctors have a moral obligation to prevent misuse of medication.
Dr. William D. Graf, a pediatrician and Neurologist, collaborated with five other doctors to write a position paper that aims to give doctors a primer on the ethical, social, legal and developmental issues surrounding prescribing ADHD drugs to children. The paper is the first of its kind to focus solely on prescribing these drugs to healthy children, and an increase in the number of children taking stimulants over the past 20 years reinforces his research.
About 16 percent of the population of some high school and college campuses uses prescription drugs as study aids. A growing number of student have used the medications as “study drugs” to take before tests, and more parents are requesting ADHD drugs for kids who don’t meet the criteria for the disorder. Although the drugs can be helpful in treating ADHD, they can have serious side effects such as cardiac risks or addiction in healthy children.
Researchers also note the rise in recreational use of stimulant medication as students illegally share these prescription drugs with friends. America’s highly competitive society can lead students and parents to ask for the drug. However, if they don’t get it, students may buy the drugs from other students. Greg Eells, associate director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Cornell University, explains how students tend to think if they can Google something, they know what they are getting into. He warns that there’s a reason only people who’ve gone to medical school for a long time can prescribe medications: “These drugs are serious business.”
The paper, which was published March 13 in the academy’s journal, asks doctors to explore any evidence of direct or indirect coercion or pressure from peers, parents and teachers or other adults to use ADHD drugs, and explains how giving these neuroenhancments may alter a child’s developmental process. Furthermore, the long-term health effects of taking these drugs have not been established, and the prescribers are obligated to prevent misuse or diversion of controlled drugs. Doctors should talk to children directly about the medication request, as it could be triggered by another medical or psychological condition, such as anxiety or depression.
As neuroenhancement continues to grow, doctors should emphasize to parents and children that there are alternatives to stimulant drugs, such as maintaining good sleep, nutrition, study habits, and exercise regimens. Although the study drug trend has increased over the past few decades, the position paper concludes that the practice of neuroenhancement isn’t justifiable. Graf emphasizes the moral obligation of doctors to prevent medication misuse and explains that doctors’ professional integrity is at stake: “This is not what these drugs were designed for, and doctors can be part of the problem.”