Abuse of “Good Grade” Pills

By Kim Smiley

A recent New York Times article, “Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill” talked about the dangers associated with abuse of prescription stimulants.  These stimulants are prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but they cause individuals without the disorder to become hyper focused and better able to concentrate for long periods of time.  There isn’t good data on how many high school students are abusing the stimulants, but anecdotal evidence implies that a significant number of students, especially those at highly competitive high schools, use the prescription stimulants to help improve test score and grades.

This issue can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis.  The first step when beginning a Cause Map is to determine the impact to the overall organizational goals.  In this example, the Safety Goal is impacted because there are risks to the students abusing the prescription stimulants.  Once the impact is defined, “why” questions are asked and causes are added to the Cause Map.

Why are there risks to students abusing prescription stimulants?  Students are at risk because students without medical need are using the stimulants, the stimulants can be dangerous and illegal sale or procession of these drugs can have severe consequences.

Students are using the stimulants because they are available and they can aid in earning good grades.  The stimulants are available because some people sell them and there is anecdotal evidence that some students fake the symptoms to get prescriptions for them.

Many of the students using these stimulants don’t realize that there can be serious health issues with using them.  First off, these drugs are one of the most addictive substances that have a medical use.  There is little known about the potential long term health issues of abusing prescription stimulants.  There is also a concern that these drugs may act as a gateway drug which has the potential to open the door to more drug abuse as students get more comfortable with the idea of taking pills. In the short term, there are a number of health issues to consider including heart irregularities, exhaustion and even psychosis during withdrawal.

Another important fact many students are unaware of is that giving these drugs to a friend can have heavy legal consequences.  Distribution of prescription stimulants is considered a felony.  Adderall, Ritalin and other name brand stimulants used to treat ADHD are controlled as Class 2 substances, the same as cocaine and morphine, and the sale of them carries severe penalties.

This issue is just beginning to come to light and more information is needed to fully understand how many students are involved and the best way to stop the abuse of the prescription stimulants.  As more information is available it can easily be added to the Cause Map.

To view a high level Cause Map of this issue, click on “Download PDF” above.