Many aspects of Newark, New Jersey make it a unique city. One of the lesser known – but extremely critical – ones is the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, or “NJPIES” for short. NJPIES, also commonly known as the Poison Center, is located in University Hospital and is the only poison center in the state. It has many services to offer, especially for college students. According to NJPIES’ Director of Public Education Alicia Gambino, a “poison” is any substance that poses harm to a person who consumes it. With finals around the corner, many students consider taking “study drugs,” which, if abused, can become a “poison.”
What exactly are “study drugs”? I interviewed Dr. Bruce Ruck, who has been the Director of Drug Information Services & Professional Education at NJPIES since 2002. He says that this phrase is actually a misnomer. He believes calling these amphetamine derivatives “study drugs is a disservice.” These drugs – such as Adderall and Ritalin – are intended for use by individuals with ADHD, as they are capable of increasing concentration and overall academic performance. They work by raising levels of certain brain chemicals, like norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, to bring about increased alertness and energy. However, their efficacy is dependent on whether one is supposed to be taking them – on whether they have been prescribed by a healthcare professional. While stimulants may help children who have ADHD or other concentration problems, they can cause serious damage for people abusing them.
Some of the side-effects of stimulants are physiological, including loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, and tremors. These are serious issues, and even more alarming are increased heart rate and blood pressure. Long term, this is very detrimental to cardiac health, as the heart will be doing much more work. An NJIT student I spoke to regularly takes one of these drugs for his ADHD, and he described his heart palpitations – which can come at any random time of day – as very scary. The effects don’t stop at the physical level; stimulants affect the psyche as well. Nervousness, anxiety, agitation, and even hallucinations are just a few of the extreme examples. Side effects like these are extremely dangerous over long periods of time, but they become a reality for those who use highly addictive study drugs.
According to Dr. Ruck, it is the responsibility of the Poison Center to educate the general population, including students, about the dangers of various poisonous substances. Aside from the many programs and initiatives that have taken place, the center has a 24/7 hotline (800-222-1222) that people can call to report a poisoning incident or just to ask a question. The center also does outreach through press releases and social media. NJPIES plays a very important role in the state of New Jersey, as well as in Newark specifically. Students should know that there is someone they can turn to if they have a question about a substance or are experiencing unusual symptoms. Dr. Ruck described several of the calls the center recently received from students: “I’m supposed to take one pill but I took two so I could study better” and “My friend sold me this drug, I took it, and now I don’t feel well.” These are just a few examples, but for every call, there are certainly many questions that go unanswered and concerns that go unnoticed.
How can students make a difference? It’s important to be educated about stimulants and the dangers associated with their abuse. Students can encourage the conversation about them, whether with peers or with faculty. On your own, school can be hard, and it may be tempting to resort to “study drugs,” whether they are OTC (like caffeine pills) or illegally obtained prescription medicines. However, you should remember that you have a support network of friends, as well as the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (C-CAPS). In addition, students should avoid sharing any medications, as it is illegal to share, sell, or otherwise distribute some prescription drugs. Instead of relying on stimulants to assist with studying for exams, develop a good study plan and prepare ahead of time. Best of luck with your exams, NJIT students. Take care of yourselves!
Contact the Poison Center:
24/7 hotline: 1-800-222-1222