Spahn ’11 on the Use and Abuse of “Smart Drugs”

Way back in June, we posted about an all-campus email announcing two amendments to Wesleyan’s Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Policy. Then, the student uproar was over the ban, despite WSA consensus, of open containers of alcohol on University property. Today, the debate continues over the other element of that revision: a ban on the misuse of prescription drugs, particularly for academic performance enhancement, which many regard as a form cheating.

Specifically, some students think the policy should go further. Is using Ritalin, Adderall, or similar “smart drugs”—without a legal prescription—tantamount to seeking an unfair advantage, “much like steroid use in sports”? Why is this any different loading up on caffeine right before a test, or any other substance believed to enhance academic performance? Should the use (and misuse) of these drugs to increase alertness or concentration be treated as an honor code violation?

CBC radio show Q posed these questions on Monday, using Wesleyan’s honor code as an example (somewhat inaccurately—as Spahn points out at 1:39, Wesleyan’s policy does not currently treat study drugs as cheating, or as distinct from other illegal use of prescription drugs) and interviewing 2010 WSA presidential candidate Bradley Spahn ’11 on the use of these drugs at Wes. Spahn, according to the show, “led the campaign to get the use of prescription stimulants recognized as cheating”; he relates one anecdote in which he took an exam at Wes and later “found out probably most of the class had been taking these drugs.” (Natural question: how did he become privy to this information?)

Arguing against Spahn on the show is Matt Lamkin, lawyer and fellow at Indiana University Center for Bioethics, who argues that the use of these “study drugs” without a prescription, though illegal, should not constitute cheating, and that little substantial evidence demonstrates that their use enhances academic performance anyway. The analogy to steroid use in sports is faulty, Lamkin claims, because sports—unlike college academics—are an inherently competitive enterprise, which leads me to wonder which fantastical, uncompetitive college campuses Lamkin has been frequenting.

You can listen to the full smart drugs debate here, via CBC radio, but please weigh in in the comments section: how should the University deal with (or not deal with) the use and abuse of “smart drugs”?

10 thoughts on “Spahn ’11 on the Use and Abuse of “Smart Drugs”

  1. a nonny mouse

    I think the fundamental issue is that there’s no way for a university to deal with this problem that isn’t either kind of useless (i.e. educational theater during orientation) or invasive (i.e. mandatory drug testing before every exam). I think the other thing thats being missed here is that things like Ritalin and Adderal aren’t magic drugs that make you smarter. Sure, they help you focus, which can help many people in test-taking situations, but I’ve taken drugs like these before, and I tend to tweak out and fixate on weird things other than my work, ultimately making me do worse. A good nights sleep and a cup of coffee improves my academic performance much more than so-called “study drugs.” The importance difference is that abuse of prescription drugs is illegal, but we shouldn’t treat their use as if popping a pill automatically adds 10 points to your grade. You still have to know the material.

    Abuse of prescription drugs is a crime, and if sufficiently widespread might even constitute a public health issue. This is made especially worse by the fact that doctors are so easily coerced into giving people prescriptions they dont need, who then would be protected from any disciplinary action since they had a legitimate prescription, even if they didnt need the drugs any more than someone without a prescription.

    Abuse of these drugs is illegal, and in violation of the student code of conduct. That should be enough without having to drag “cheating” into it.

  2. A non e-moose

    The primary purpose of higher education for almost everyone who goes to college is to gain a competitive advantage over our peers. The hypocrisy in Lamkin’s statement is unbelievable. As a lawyer (and one who is doing business law) the fact that he thinks school is not competitive is actually mind boggling.

    1. cribbles

      No, the primary purpose for you and your law school peers is to gain a competitive advantage over others. Wesleyan’s stated purpose is to educate its students “to do productive and innovative work that makes a positive difference in the world”

  3. Anoners

    It seems he’s not just mad, but he’s actually butthurt (I hate to use an internet term, but it fits) because he found out his class used them and he didn’t and either he’s mad he didn’t think of doing that and did poorly or he did think of it but couldn’t obtain any. There is no other reason to try to do what he’s doing and he’s a prick for trying.

    1. anonymous

      i appreciate that he is participating in this discussion. i think it needs to be talked about and there’s no easy answer. but yeah, study drugs on campus suck. i shouldn’t have to do illegal drugs to be competing on equal footing with my classmates.

    2. anonymous

      I think his stance is pretty moderate, even if its different from mine, and it is dissapointing that as a Wes student you can’t appreciate that opinions that you don’t agree with can still be thoughtful. Furthermore, I think he should be commended for actually doing something about his beliefs instead of staying at home and talking trash online. If you feel strongly about your right to take perscription pills illegally before exams, why don’t you start a group defending that non-right?

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