Prescription drug abuse is a growing issue across the board. When you want to get high, the question no longer seems to be “Got any pot?” but rather, “Have you had your wisdom teeth taken out recently?”
I do not want to moralize about why we should not abuse prescription drugs or lecture on the health risks of methylphenidate (Ritalin). Instead, let’s discuss the simultaneously wide-ranging and deeply ambiguous academic implications of using psychostimulants. Are mentally enhancing drugs a panacea or just another sign of the apocalypse?
Perhaps the biggest problem with prescription drug abuse is that we do not consider it a problem. After all, Americans have been widely abusing drugs since they have been available. In the 1950s, housewives took a sedative called Miltown, known colloquially as “mother’s little helper.” The college generation before us popped NoDoz caffeine pills like candy.
Is taking Ritalin before a big test all that different from having a cup of coffee in the morning?
Henry Greely, a Stanford professor, published an article in December called “Brain-Boosting Drugs Not To Be Feared,” arguing that taking psychostimulants like Ritalin is morally equivalent to that morning cup of coffee. “This isn’t like steroids and sports … enhancement is not a dirty word,” Greely says.
But before we get too giggly over the word “enhancement,” let’s bear in mind the intent of novels like Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”: a utopian future can really only be a dystopia. The truth is that drugs, despite their obvious advantages, take something from us: They change our reality and artificially make us something we are not. The most immediate problem with the abuse of drugs like Ritalin – and what makes it distinctly different from past trends in drug use – is that many people feel that it constitutes intellectual cheating. I do not go so far as to say that abusing Ritalin actually is cheating, because hyperfocused students are still doing their own work, they are just doing it much faster. According to our Code of Academic Integrity, cheating is tantamount to stealing someone else’s work.
But I do think that this is unfair to students who labored over the same work the “real” way. Managing the work load of school is part of the college experience. By shortcutting around it, abusers effectively cheapen the work of their peers. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the use of psychostimulants in an academic setting feels dishonest.
The jury is still out, however, on whether the use of psychostimulants creates an uneven playing field academically. Regardless of the debate, from Student Judicial Services’ point of view, distributing and abusing prescription drugs is a simple matter. If you don’t have a prescription for pills in your possession, then you’re in for suspension or loss of housing. But you will not get academic dishonesty on your record.
The whole thing boils down to a personal choice and awareness that the choice you make is not as simple as it might seem on the surface. Drugs have a tremendous potential to benefit our society. But abusing them will only serve to obscure their benefits for the people that actually need them.
The writer, a senior majoring in history, is a Hatchet columnist.