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1 in 5 students at an Ivy League college abuse stimulant drugs

College students abusing prescription stimulants to improve their performance on exams — dubbed “good grade pills” — has been getting increased attention, but is it a form of cheating? About one-third of students surveyed at one Ivy League college say it’s not, according to a study slated to be presented on Saturday at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Vancouver.

Even more disturbing: Nearly one in five students at an Ivy League college (that the researchers declined to identify) reported misusing a prescription stimulant — like Ritalin or Adderall used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — while studying or finishing a paper.


The findings were based on a survey of 616 sophomores, juniors, and seniors without ADHD who completed an anonymous online questionnaire in December 2012.

Senior investigator Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, said in a statement that colleges need to think of stimulant abuse as a problem on par with alcohol abuse and recreational drug use. “Because many students are misusing prescription stimulants for academic, not recreational purposes,” he said, “colleges must develop specific programs to address this issue.”

He and his colleagues also found:

— 18 percent of student participants reported misusing a prescription stimulant for an academic purpose at least once while in college, and 24 percent of these students said they had done so on eight or more occasions.

— 69 percent of those who misused stimulants did so to write an essay, 66 percent to study for an exam, and 27 percent just before taking a test to improve their performance.

— 33 percent of students did not think stimulant misuse for academic purposes was a form of cheating, while 41 percent thought it was cheating and 25 percent were unsure.


Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.