Updated 15 February 2019

US college kids easily get ADHD meds without prescriptions

It's easy for U.S college students to illegally obtain stimulants and other prescription drugs for ADHD on campus, a new survey finds.

Seventy percent of the more than 3,900 respondents said it was somewhat easy or very easy to get the medications without a prescription, such as those prescribed for ADHD.

The 2015 College Prescription Drug Study, conducted by Ohio State University, included undergraduate, graduate and professional students at six public and two private colleges and universities in five states.

The survey found that undergraduates were more likely to misuse prescription drugs. Most claimed they used the drugs to help them study or improve their grades.

Read: SA has one of the highest prescription rates for ADHD medication

About 18 percent of undergraduates said they misused prescription stimulants, and 83 percent said they obtained them from friends.

Stimulant use was the most common practice, but students are misusing a number of other types of prescription drugs.

"Overall, one in four undergraduates reported that they used prescription pain medications, sedatives or stimulants for non-medical reasons in their lifetimes,"

Read: Side effects of ADHD medication

study author Anne McDaniel said in a university news release. McDaniel is associate director of research and data management at Ohio State's Centre for the Study of Student Life.

Pain medications were misused by 10 percent of undergraduates, and about one-third of students said it was easy or very easy to obtain them.

About 9 percent of undergrads misused sedatives, and 44 percent said it was easy or very easy to get them on campus.

Read: Is Ritalin safe?

The reasons college students misuse prescription drugs have changed over the years, according to Kenneth Hale, a clinical professor of pharmacy at Ohio State and associate director of its Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery.

"At one time, college students most commonly misused drugs to get high. But today, students also use medications to self-medicate, to manage their lives. They are using drugs to control pain, to go to sleep, to relieve anxiety and to study," he said in the news release.

Fifty-five percent of students who misused pain medications did so for pain relief, while 46 percent did so to get high. More than half who misused sedatives did so to sleep, while 85 percent did so to help them study or improve their grades, according to the survey.

Read more: 

Prescription drug abuse epidemic  

OTC and prescription drug abuse  

What's up with Ritalin?


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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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