Purpose: This research was designed to serve as a pilot study to generate baseline data on non-medical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD) for cognitive/academic enhancement purposes among students representing two healthcare professions, Occupational Therapy (OT) and Speech Language Pathology (SLP) and to assess students’ opinions regarding whether use of these medications constitutes academic “cheating.” Introduction: NMUPD, such as Adderall ® or Ritalin ®, to reduce fatigue, improve memory, and increase concentration to ultimately improve grades has increased among college students in recent years, with estimated use put as high as 35% on some campuses. These drugs appear to be readily available to those not prescribed them, with primary sources including family, friends, and classmates. Aside from health concerns stemming from ingesting non-prescribed medications is the ethical concern whether use of such cognitive enhancers is “cheating.” Methods: Following IRB approval, 150 OT and 150 SLP students, randomly selected from membership in their respective national associations, were mailed survey packets containing a cover letter, questionnaire, and return envelope. Results: A total of 51 completed surveys, including 25 OT and 26 SLP students, were returned and included in analyses. Of these, five (9.8%) reported using cognitive enhancing prescription medications. Four of these reported having a legal prescription, including one who admitted faking symptoms of ADHD to access the prescription. The fifth student had no prescription. Motives included recreational enjoyment, to improve attention/concentration, reduce hyperactivity/impulsivity, and to obtain higher grades. Four out of ten students indicated abuse of prescription medications was a problem at their institutions, with three out of ten believing it was easy to obtain such drugs. Students were visibly divided as to whether use of these medications was academic cheating. Conclusions: The percent of these healthcare profession students reporting to have used non-prescribed medications for academic enhancement purposes mirrors that of studies on the general college student population and reflects the division as to whether use constitutes cheating. As the survey is a self-report, the numbers using the prescription medications may be higher. Results indicate future research on NMUPD among healthcare students is warranted, along with a need to educate students on the risks of use of these medications for non-prescribed purposes.

Author Bio(s)

  • Randy P. McCombie, PhD, OTR/L is Program Director and Chair of the Division of Occupational Therapy, School of Medicine, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV.
  • Hannah Slanina, MOT, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist working as an independent contractor.




Submission Location


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