Wheel Debates: Opposed to Regulating Study Drugs on College Campuses















As my fellow writer points out, the use of “study drugs” is increasing substantially throughout colleges and universities. However, what distinguishes the use of study drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin, from recreational drug use is that students aren’t using these drugs to get high, but rather to boost their academic performance. It is a means to achieve a long-term goal. Unlike recreational drug use which tends to be impulsive and haphazard, the use of study drugs can be successfully curtailed through an educational campaign by trusted health care professionals.

In 2008, a group of six professors and scientists hailing from places such as Stanford Law School and the psychiatry department at Cambridge published in the international journal Nature that the appropriate response to study drug use should be further research and greater dissemination of information about the costs and benefits of such drugs. This a superior option to the flippant and reactionary stance proposed by Senator Charles Schumer, who believes that study drugs are inherently negative. As my fellow writer states, Senator Schumer’s plan is to further restrict access to these drugs through campus health clinics.

Factual evidence undermines Senator Schumer’s assumption. Study drugs should be viewed not as a raging epidemic sweeping through universities nationwide, but rather as the next development in “cognitive enhancement” which includes everything from caffeine to healthy dieting. Henry Greely, a professor of law at Stanford, argues that human “ingenuity” provides a multitude of ways to enhance ourselves, yet the fact that study drugs do so through a particularly “invasive” manner does not provide “reasonable grounds for prohibition.”

While the Schumer plan is not outright prohibition, it does require intensive restrictions on accessibility to such medication. Such a solution is destined to be ineffectual and counterproductive. If drug control has failed in every major sporting organization there is no reason to believe colleges and universities will be more successful in their attempts to regulate a larger and smarter population. The fact is, these drugs have “legitimate uses for legitimate conditions” so there will always be “loopholes” that will be exploited. Adding further restrictions on students who have a legitimate need for such drugs will only serve to undermine the trust between Emory’s medical professionals and the students in their care.

Creating an adversarial relationship between Emory’s outstanding health care professionals and our students is foolhardy. Without some modicum of trust, we run the risk that students will forgo their services needed to deal with a litany of other issues, ranging from substance abuse to psychological counseling.

It’s best to think of such issues in terms of economics. Schumer’s plan attempts to control the supply-side of the issue while ignoring the demand side of the problem. Such thinking continues to plague our efforts to eradicate illicit drugs. The focus on supply rather than demand is destined to fail because profit will always incentivize someone to supply the product as long as demand is high enough.

As Sue Wasiolek, Duke University’s dean of students, acknowledges, “enforcement is extremely difficult” because it’s infeasible to control the supply of legal drugs flowing into a campus through an uncontrolled black market. This is why experts such as Professor Sean McCabe of the University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Research Center suggest a demand side approach. We must begin by “educating students about the potential health risks” because right now most do not understand the costs and benefits of their own actions. The better strategy is to use Emory Healthcare to create an “inquiry driven” educational model that increases student awareness about the short and long-term implications of excessive study drug use. That campaign can only be successful if we preserve the positive and trusting relationship our health care providers have cultivated with Emory students.

It is for this reason that further study and education would be a superior reaction to the issue of study drugs. Students need to be made aware of the health risks that arise from drug abuse of any kind. Yet they also need to understand that patterns of life which require the use of study drugs are not the healthiest long term plans. Natural cognitive enhancements, such as proper sleep patterns and “healthy diet,” are more sustainable options in which students should be engaging.

The easy choice for Emory is to crackdown on the use of Adderall and Ritalin and bask in the glory of “doing something” regardless of how ineffectual and net harmful the proposals are. That is not a response befitting a “destination university” that is “inquiry driven” and research oriented. A better strategy, one worthy of a tier one research university like Emory, is to study and educate. Such a plan will be far more productive as long as we are not creating an adversarial relationship between Emory’s health care professionals and our students.

For the opposing opinion, click here

Illustration by Mariana Hernandez