Bath Time Investigates: Study Drugs on campus- Part 2

Often there are questions and significant hurdles that arise when sourcing study drugs. Under the obvious impression that the only way to access these drugs would be through buying them from someone who suffered from ADHD, ADD or narcolepsy. Indeed, there are those that use this method: one of my sources explained how he only used his medication during the exam period, selling any surplus that remained. Despite the fact that selling prescription drugs is a criminal offence, he explained that the chances of being caught were so low he was unbothered. He went on to say that the authorities find it hard to track and they’re likely to focus their attention on the recreational Class A and B drugs that are dealt, such as MDMA, cocaine and marijuana. After writing to the police force on this matter, they were unable to give me a figure on the quantity of medical drugs seized in comparison to Class A and B drugs as ‘there is no obligation for the constabulary to create information to satisfy a request’.

However, it seems that the easiest and most legitimate way to get hold of these drugs is online. To my surprise, when typing ‘Modafinil’ into Google, the second hit is a website selling the drug. Costing just £29.49 for 10 x 200mg tablets, the website boasts ‘next day delivery’ and ‘discreet packaging’. After speaking to a biology student at the University, she said that you ‘google the symptoms’ and then ‘pretend to have one of the illnesses.’ She then went on to say how ‘easy’ it is to subsequently get a legitimate, online prescription for the medication. Not only that, but on ‘Black Friday’ she was offered 20% off from her next purchase of Modafinil. These websites seem to be actively encouraging the purchase of these drugs, despite having false information in some cases.

It appears to be quite easy to illegally access recreational drugs using the dark web. Students were able to legally buy ‘smart drugs’ by filling out an online form with fabricated answers and getting a prescription. Because of this, I contacted the General Medical Council (GMC) whose purpose is ‘to protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public’ by controlling which medical practitioners are on the register. They stated that a doctor using remote (online) prescriptions must have ‘adequate knowledge of the patient’s health, and are satisfied that the medicines serve the patient’s needs’. I challenged this statement as if students without narcolepsy or ADD/ADHD can get hold of Modafinil and Ritalin, surely the doctors do not have ‘adequate knowledge’?

In response to this query, I was directed by the GMC to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), a body that regulates medicines in the UK. MHRA then told me to contact the General Pharmaceutical Council who were unable to give me a response as it is not within their ‘remit’. Eventually, one can draw the conclusion that there is no official body regulating the purchase of these drugs online, and as is the case with so much these days, ‘Generation X’ and the Internet seem to be one step ahead of any formal control.

Many argue that the use of these cognitive enhancers, whilst being a health risk, is also fundamentally unethical. Those who oppose the use of ‘study drugs’ for ethical reasons argue that they are a form of cheating. It gives the person using them an unfair advantage as the work they do is not a natural product of the brain, but instead a product of the medication. In sport, the use of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs are prohibited, should mind-altering drugs such as Modafinil and Ritalin not also be banned?

Given that this is a contentious issue, there is no surprise that there are those who wholeheartedly support the use of ‘study drugs’, and potentially see it as the future in education. They counter the previous argument by claiming that people already have the opportunity to gain an unfair advantage through the use of private tutors, private education and legal substances such as caffeine. In terms of the cost of these products, if they became more readily available, free market economics suggests the price would drop. Some advocates of ‘study drugs’ turn to the revolutionary invention of the computer, and the effect it had on productivity. In line with this argument, they claim that cognitive enhancing medication could likewise revolutionise productivity and we should not be afraid of them.

In spite of obvious health risks why, when asked, did all the students I interviewed say they would take ‘study drugs’ again? Could it be because we now live in a generally more narcotised society? Whilst this may be the case, I believe the real reason lies in the pressure university students are now under. A report conducted by the UPP found that 48% of males and 67% of females find the stress of studying at university difficult to cope with. An article by the Telegraph then goes on to suggest that this academic stress is a contributing factor to students committing suicide. The article cites an inquiry from the University of Manchester which uncovered some worrying statistics: ‘the study, which analysed evidence heard at suicide inquests, found 63 of the 145 (43 per cent) suicide victims examined from 2014-15 were experiencing academic pressure before their death’.  With all this stress, is it surprising that students are turning to ‘study drugs’?

When going to a top university, such as Bath, this stress stems from the expectation to take part in sports and extra-curricular activities, potentially getting a job, going out and getting drunk, having a social life, whilst simultaneously getting a decent grade in our studies. As the statistics show, all this pressure mounds as exams loom, especially now that there is such high competition for employment and initially, all the employer sees is a bit of paper with your exam result, titled ‘CV’.

For some students, there is a feeling that the only way they are able to work harder and play harder is by taking prescription medication. One sociology student told me, ‘I genuinely reckon I wouldn’t have got a 2:1 without it [Modafinil]’. ‘Study drugs’ do not seem to be the solution to the highly competitive, pressurised society we live in, but a symptom. In many ways, this article has raised more questions than it has answered, potentially the most important two being: how do we stop these drugs being so readily available, and are students using these drugs because they want to, or because they feel they need to? As the use of these cognitive enhancers increases year on year, more varieties of these drugs become available, and the word spreads about how easily accessible they are, it is imperative that these questions are answered. Yet institutions do not know how to combat the use of ‘study drugs’ and they do not seem to be answering these questions: they need to be more proactive.

Given that this is an issue regarding student health, I contacted the University Medical Centre multiple times. However, after repeated requests for a response, Bath Time received no reply.

Bath Time also contacted the University of Bath, who gave this statement:

‘The University does not support the un-prescribed use of so-called ‘study drugs’. Any student who has concerns about drug use, or any other issue, is encouraged to seek confidential help from the University’s Wellbeing Service. Drop-in is available every day at the Student Services Centre in 4 West – no appointment is needed.

The University of Bath takes the health and well-being of its students extremely seriously and works closely with its Students’ Union to ensure there are a wide range of services and advice for students including counselling, mental health support, comprehensive pastoral care, disability support and hardship funding advice.’

The Student’s Union likewise gave a statement:

‘The SU strongly advises any students considering the use of ‘study drugs’ to come and talk to us in The SU Advice and Support Centre or to go to the Wellbeing Team in Student Services. We advise that students seriously consider the implications of using ‘study drugs’ from both an ethical perspective and in relation to the potential impacts on personal health and wellbeing.

The SU understands that university can be demanding on your time and mental health and therefore we suggest that students feeling overwhelmed or pressured to use ‘study drugs’ should make use of the services available on campus. Services can include talking to staff at the SU Advice and Support Centre or at the University Student Services (Mental Health and Counselling Service and the Wellbeing Team).  Details of these services can be found at https://www.thesubath.com/advice/ or http://www.bath.ac.uk/departments/student-services/ .

Evidence shows that there are many side effects and potential fatal risk to using any medication that has not been prescribed to you by a doctor and The SU strongly advises that this is not a risk worth taking.’

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