Students Turn to Drugs for Good Grades.


[author: James G. Ryan]

The abuse of prescription stimulants, once relegated to over-worked college and graduate students, has found its way into the halls of high schools across the country. The pressure to succeed academically and secure a highly coveted seat among the most prestigious institutions of higher education has led many students to seek refuge among a variety of cognitive-enhancing drugs. Prescriptions like Ritalin and Adderall have been found to boost memory, attention, and concentration.[1] These stimulants activate the frontal part of the brain that engages in concentration by modifying the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine.[2] When used for their prescribed purpose these medications tend to calm individuals with A.D.H.D., however, they can result in enhanced energy and focus when taken by those without the disorder.[3]

Adderall, Ritalin, Focalin, and Vayvanse are listed by the D.E.A. as Class 2 controlled substances, along with other highly addictive substances such as cocaine and morphine. Therefore, a felony conviction can result from simply handing a classmate an Adderall before a tough exam. In describing how they obtained the pills many students state that they feign symptoms in order to get a prescription, or they simply buy them from a friend or classmate with access to pills.[4]

Students who resist the peer pressure to artificially boost academic performance by taking illicit substances nevertheless feel frustrated that those who do engage in the practice receive an unfair advantage on exams. Others argue that caffeine, which also leads to improved attention, is widely available on many high school campuses and utilized to enhance performance.[5] Additionally, they claim that the use of cognitive enhancers is merely a form of social justice, balancing the needs of student who wish to improve their academic performance but cannot afford resources such as tutors and private exam preparation classes that some of their classmates can.[6] This proposition is admittedly criticized as ethically comparable to the use of steroids by athletes.[7]

Additionally, many students fail to understand the potential risks associated with the use of prescription stimulants such as mood swings, depression, irregular heart rate, acute exhaustion, increased risk of seizures and elevated body temperature.[8] Despite the clear risk and seemingly rampant use of these drugs on school campuses many drug programs offered by schools fail to adequately address the issue.

If your institution has any further questions or concerns about drug use in schools, or education law related matters, please email James G. Ryan at or call him at (516) 357-3750.

A special thanks to Cynthia Thomas, a law clerk at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for help with this post.

[1]Sarah D. Sparks, Advent of ‘Smart Drugs’ Raises Safety, Ethical Concerns, Education Week, Oct. 19, 2012, available at

[2] Id.

[3] Alan Schwarz, Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill, N.Y. Times, June 9, 2012, available at

[4] Id.

[5] Sarah D. Sparks, Advent of ‘Smart Drugs’ Raises Safety, Ethical Concerns, Education Week, Oct. 19, 2012,available at

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Alan Schwarz, Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill, N.Y. Times, June 9, 2012, available at

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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