Under the counter: Student use of prescription drugs


Safi Qadir

Some students experiment with perscription drugs to enhance their well-being, whether or not they’re actually meant for that purpose.

As students of Hinsdale Central, we are surrounded by motivated and driven peers, who in turn motivate us to do our best in every aspect regarding school. But, do you ever ask yourself how far that motivation would go? Do you ever wonder if students turn to prescription drugs to enhance their performance in school or sports?

In Jan., former basketball player and speaker, Chris Herren, came to Central in order to warn students of the perils of drug use. Herren discussed the recreational use of drugs, including prescription drugs. However, as I talked to more students, I started to understand that most students who do use prescription drugs have to because of mental illnesses or acne.

For example, Accutane is a commonly used prescription to lessen acne. While most of the students I’ve talked to use Accutane to control their acne, other students, specifically girls, use birth control for the same purposes. The side effects of Accutane vary from hair thinning to depression. These side effects create the question of whether taking these prescription drugs are necessary or not.

“I think that if a certain characteristic or feature makes an individual feel uncomfortable or if that person would benefit from using prescription drugs, it’s appropriate to do so,” said an anonymous junior, who regularly uses birth control.

Birth control isn’t typically used among high school girls to lower the risk of pregnancy, but rather to lessen their menstruation and control their acne. Birth control limits one’s menstrual cycle from once every month to once every three months, which for girls with severe period pain, is beneficial. Like every prescription drug, although it may have benefits, birth control has several side effects. Some of these such as headaches and mood changes are a result of the hormonal changes caused by the pill itself.

“A lot of parents don’t think of acne medications or birth control pills as something they need to report as medication,” said Melissa Geibel, school nurse. “Accutane and some other acne medications come with black box warnings because of their risk of depression.”

Courtesy of NCK Pharma
Prescription drugs such as Prozac, an antidepressant, come with black box labels from the Food and Drug Administration. These black box labels come with drugs with serious hazardous effects.

Additionally, several students suffer from mental illnesses such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety, and therefore, have to take medication like Adderall or Xanax. Adderall is a common prescription drug for those suffering from ADHD and has the effect of focusing individuals by stimulating their central nervous system.

“If I don’t take my medicine, it affects my performance because things that are simple get very hard and things I like to do become a chore since I just can’t focus enough to do them,” said Sophia Panos, junior who takes medicine for her ADHD and anxiety.

However, for students who don’t have ADHD, the side effects of taking Adderall or similar drugs can be detrimental as it can cause life-long heart diseases. Therefore, if there are students who only take Adderall to stay focused while studying and not because they have ADHD, they should be extremely cautious of their conditions and assess whether their life is worth risking for a focused study session.

Although the most reported drug used is stimulants for ADHD, Geibel noted that several students use antidepressants for anxiety. She says that in her opinion, depending on the person, it is more rewarding to try alternative methods before taking medication.

“A lot of students with ADHD decide not to take medication because of the way it makes them feel and try therapy or different methods to study,” Geibel said.

However, according to Geibel, many students take Ritalin, a stimulant, unnecessarily to help them focus and study. Drugs like Xanax are used most commonly as substances to relax students.  These drugs have detrimental long term effects. For example, Ritalin increases headaches and the risk of heart diseases, while Xanax increases the risk of mental changes and decreases coordination. 

As shown, these prescribed drugs have damaging effects and if students use these drugs without the right prescriptions or against their doctors’ wishes, they can alter their health forever. If necessary, prescribed medication should be used carefully.