Students use too many performance-enhancing drugs to study. That needs to change, says state secretary for health Paul Blokhuis.
Students are increasingly using drugs like Ritalin and Dextroamphetamine in order to focus. A study by UG psychologist Anselm Fuermaier last year showed that no fewer than 16 percent of first-year students take methylphenidate, the active ingredient in many ADHD medications. Nearly 60 percent of these first-years said they took it ‘occasionally’, with approximately one percent taking the drug ‘regularly’.
‘It’s the academic pressure that brings them to use these stimulants’, Fuermaier thinks. ‘But another problem is that students have full access to these drugs.’ They usually acquire the stimulants from other students or from family members with ADHD. Approximately 30 percent buys them on the black market. A study by the University of Amsterdam showed that there’s a ‘viable trade’ in performance-enhancing drugs.
Students mainly use the drugs in times of stress, the secretary of state confirmed in a letter to the Dutch Lower House. ‘Feelings of psychological pressure stimulate the use of study drugs, performance-enhancing stimulants to help them cope with high expectations and pressure.’
He also thinks the use of these drugs will only increase over time. ‘Educational institutes and experts are pointing out the growing trend. They fear a future in which using drugs to study has become normalised.’
Blokhuis doesn’t think this is a good thing. ‘Medication being used for the wrong reasons leads to negative health effects.’ People can suffer heart palpitations, mood swings, or panic attacks. ‘Years of use can even lead to a burnout, because users are so hyperactive that their body can’t slow down.’
The problem requires a wider approach, but the secretary of state isn’t sure how to go about it just yet. He’ll need more information about why and especially how students use these drugs. To get this information, he’ll be talking to healthcare institutes, student organisations, healthcare providers, and research institutes.
Fuermaier thinks one issue is with careless diagnoses: ‘Doctors should not prescribe these drugs too easily. They have to do full clinical diagnostics and evaluate carefully.’
Blokhuis wants to inform the Lower House about any subsequent actions in March 2022.