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Prescription Drug-Use Rises Among Students

More college students are abusing prescription medications due to increasing pressure and competition.

More college students are abusing prescription medications due to increasing pressure and competition.

The days of keg stands and fraternity parties are long gone for many current college students. The stress and growing competition among students and entry-level professionals has led to increasing levels of prescription drug use. 


The Clinton Foundation conducted a study in January, which measured prescription drug use among college students. The study mentioned “In the last 20 years, the consumption of prescription stimulants increased from 5 million to 45 million” (Clinton Foundation).

The study concluded that college students nationwide have played a major role in this epidemic. The research found among college students between 1993 and 2005 the use of opioids (including Oxycontin, Vicodin and Percocent) increased 343 percent and use of stimulants (including Adderall and Vyvanse) increase 93 percent. 

Statistics on Chicago:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services most recent extensive study on prescription drug use in Chicago was conducted in 2009. The study concluded the rates of emergency department visits for recreational use of prescriptions per 100,000 people in Chicago:

  •             100.5 Pain Relievers
  •             73.8 Opiates/Opioids
  •             70.0 Drugs that treat Anxiety or Insomnia
  •             26.3 Psychotherapeutic Medications (antidepressants) 

Chicago’s Problem:

Violence in Chicago has been increasing at exponential rates. This saturation of violence has caused police and other city officials to concentrate more heavily on gang activity and gun violence. This specific concentration has left an important and growing issue unanswered.

Many of the universities around Chicago offer student-help centers for drug abuse and addiction problems. Yet, none have noticed a prescription problem on their campuses.

However, these campuses are spread out throughout the entire city of Chicago. The public transportation system makes it easy for people to travel around the city. Though this is convenient, it also makes access to prescriptions easier. Students are no longer just limited to the pharmacies and “prescribed students” in their area.

When contacted, Loyola University, DePaul University, and the University of Chicago, each said they offer services to help students. However, they rarely see cases where students to come forward for prescription drug-use, especially when they aren’t being prescribed the medications.

Kristina Edwards, a pharmacist for the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics explains prescription drug use as an “epidemic.”

Popular prescription drugs have made our job more difficult,” explained Edwards. “We have to triple count by hand, initial, and double check with doctors every time we fill a prescription.”

Even with these extra steps from doctors and pharmacists, Edwards says students are still finding ways to get their hands on the drugs.

Stimulants like Adderall are meant for people with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).  Edwards mentioned these drugs cause users to have a rush of energy and clarity, even for those without ADD and ADHD.

Edwards believes the universities and Chicago police have to take this issue more seriously, “Students don’t think it’s a big deal because the drugs come from a pharmacy, but that’s not true,” she said.

“There needs to be a push from the schools to inform students of the dangers when taking prescription drugs,” Edwards said.

This heat map displays the amount of police activity due to drug related incidents on or near the campuses of Loyola University (top of map), DePaul University (middle of map), and University of Chicago (bottom of map).

The universities are not completely innocent. This map shows the drug use reported by police in 2014 on the campuses of Loyola, DePaul and University of Chicago.

What Students Think:

Melissa Kamys is taking a year off from her education at DePaul because of the pressure she felt while enrolled.

“Everyone was so competitive, even in easy classes. I felt like I was in the Hunger Games every time I walked into a classroom,” Kamys said.

Kamys explained that prescriptions are really a big deal on college campuses. “People pass around Adderall like Tic-Tacs when final exams come around,” said Kamys.

This busy Walgreens on the corner of Wabash and Roosevelt is conveniently located  near public transportation.

This busy Walgreens on the corner of Wabash and Roosevelt is conveniently located near public transportation.

Kamys also said it’s really easy to get prescriptions in the city. “I know people who just wait outside of CVS and Walgreens and wait for people to pick up their pills. It happens all the time because no one is watching the people who leave the pharmacy.

“It’s scary how people just take what’s handed to them, and never really check to make sure they know what they’re getting.”

Mariah Martz graduated from DePaul University in 2013 and she is still searching for a job. Martz has had internships over the past year, but says the competition for entry-level positions in Chicago is ridiculous.

Martz says she has never taken a prescription that wasn’t prescribed to her, but says she knows many people who do.

“I feel like everyone takes Adderall and those kinds of pills to get an upper-hand on the competition. People who take it can study for hours and hours basically can beat the rest of us out who are trying our best without drugs,” Martz said.