Med school needs to help students lay off Ritalin

Prescription-drug dependencies can have severe consequences later in life

Are the demands of medical school wearing some Quebec students out? Apparently so, and they’re using Ritalin to help them get through, according to a CBC story earlier this week.

The story quotes a few anonymous students from the University of Sherbrooke who say they take the drug without a prescription because exams are too tiring for them to concentrate on studying further. The practice is common, they say.

But school officials don’t seem to be all that concerned about the practice amongst their students.

“It’s not that dangerous to take Ritalin, and it’s not my concern. My concern would be if it proves that there is a real problem with Ritalin, which we’re not sure yet, because we don’t know how many [are taking it], if some are taking [it], the real concern is how to learn to deal with stress in a healthy way,” Pierre Cossette, Sherbrooke’s dean of medicine, told the CBC.

Okay, fair, dealing with stress in a healthy way is advisable, but what about the fact that a culture of drug dependency is developing at the University of Sherbrooke among people who don’t need to be taking Ritalin? The stress of being a doctor is not going to stop once the MD is in hand, so what’s the plan for educating responsible doctors?

Ritalin has documented effects that give people the ability to study longer, focus harder and more efficiently manipulate information in their minds. But this is a prescription drug. This is not like drinking a cup of coffee to help you stay up or popping an Advil to take away a headache. This is a regulated drug that also has documented long-term effects.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as their respective Canadian regulatory bodies, have issued strong cautions in the past 10 years that long-term use of ADHD drugs can cause dopamine imbalances—resulting in depression issuesheart problems and even cancer.

If students become dependent on drugs like Ritalin for their grades or, later in life, job performance, there are serious risks that await them in the long term. Students that are willing to venture down this path are taking a short cut that will prevent them from learning to perform without the help of dangerous drugs. That is inadvisable.

Perhaps the university should be looking at proactively adding healthy stress management lessons to their curriculum so they’re not sending new doctors out into the world who don’t know how to handle life when things get rough.

Related content: To drug or not to drug and Brain candy: can ritalin turn you into an A student?