Recently, the senior class valedictorian of a high school near mine was sent to reform school for allegedly being in possession of a drug on campus. However, the drug in question was neither cocaine, heroin, nor any of the other drugs one might expect a high schooler to abuse. It was something called Vyvanse.
Vyvanse and Adderall are among a number of medications intended to treat those with attention-deficit disorders by focusing takers' attention. The medications also have the same effect on those who do not have ADD, enabling them to stay awake longer without fatigue and affording laser-like focus, both valuable assets for those looking to do well academically. As such, the prominence of study drugs has boomed, a phenomenon where the "druggies" are not slackers or social outcasts but the academic elite, the goody-two-shoes classmates parents always chastise their kids to look up to. An increasing number of these students, from all around the country, turn to study drugs to tackle assignments for Advanced Placement classes there are too many of or to pull an all-nighter while still being able to ace tests the following day.
Trying to induce academic prowess via chemical means is not an exclusively American practice, as evidenced by the photograph posted last year on the internet by a Chinese student of a classroom of students, all hooked up to IV drips while studying. In the U.S., competition to gain admittance into top colleges appears almost exponentially stiffer each passing year, test preparation centers pop up faster than one can say "SATs," and overall, it seems as though we are heading towards the Chinese model at warp speed. Cheating, as with many things, simply evolved to meet demand. Still, there is another phenomenon, besides the increasingly cutthroat academic atmosphere, that underlies the rise of study drugs.
The United States is the most drug-dependent country in the world; one can argue unnecessarily so. Americans consume a whopping 80 percent of the entire world's supply of painkillers, when we make up less than 5 percent of the world population. One in 10 Americans are taking antidepressants, the most prescribed drug, based on a study released by the Mayo Clinic in June. Zoloft and Prozac are household names mentioned often and casually in comedy, long the pulse of normality. Medications are too often considered the first line of defense when encountered with any problems, psychological or otherwise. The ease with which medical professionals can be prodded into writing a prescription is well-known; tellingly, a large portion of the study drugs comes into students' hands legally.
It is bad enough that we jump too fast to medications as a foolproof solution. But the reasoning behind America's overuse of medications and the rise of study drugs is more alarming -- we are no longer willing to work to solve our problems but still want to reap the rewards of solving them. Too often, we opt for the easy way out, even if that entails cheating by using what are essentially steroids for academics.
As long as focus is trained on "What can you do?" while "How did you do it?" remains inconsequential, the situation will stay unchanged. Study drugs will continue to become yet another thickening layer of the web of drug dependency and warped mindset that already entangles America.