This weekend, the New York Times carried an article entitled Risky Rise of the Good Grade Pill. The piece concerns the abuse of certain prescription medications by high school and college students trying to stay awake to study, or trying to stay focused during exams. The most popular drug seems to be Adderall, which is the brand name of an ADHD medication composed of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. (The NIH describes the drug and its uses here.)

In some instances, students are selling Adderall to one another, while in others, students with a prescription simply give some of their pills to friends. The article suggests that the sharing of Adderall and similar drugs is quite widespread in a certain demographic. The practice seems to be viewed as somewhere between totally harmless (like sharing ibuprofen) and sneaky-but-not-too-serious (like smoking an occasional cigarette). I work with a high school debate team, and although as far as I know, the kids I coach don’t use unprescribed medication, they talk about the subject with a casualness that suggests that there’s not a major social taboo against it. One gets a similar feeling from this piece, several years back, about the abuse of Adderall at UNC.

Social taboo or not, of course, there are legal risks associated with the behavior in question. I thought I’d take a moment to note some of the potential criminal liability under North Carolina law.

  • It is apparently common for students to obtain prescriptions for the drugs by faking symptoms of ADHD. This violates G.S. 90-108(a)(13), obtaining a prescription by misrepresentation. At a minimum, that’s a Class 1 misdemeanor, and it is a Class I felony if done intentionally. I can imagine an argument that such conduct is inherently intentional, and so is always a felony, which is how the court of appeals has treated violations of G.S. 90-107(a)(10) (obtaining controlled substances by fraud). See State v. Church, 73 N.C. App. 645 (1985).
  • [Note that the following two bullet points have been edited for clarity and accuracy since the original publication of this post.]
  • Because it contains amphetamine, Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance. See G.S. 90-91(3) (any material containing a salt or isomer of amphetamine). That means it is a Class G felony to sell, and a Class H felony to manufacture, deliver, or possess with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver. G.S. 90-95(a)(1), (b)(1).
  • Possessing a Schedule II drug without a prescription is normally a Class 1 misdemeanor, but because Adderall contains amphetamine, possessing any quantity of it without a prescription appears to be a Class I felony. G.S. 90-95(a)(3), (d)(2) (making it a Class I felony to possess a Schedule II substance “[i]f the controlled substance is methamphetamine, amphetamine, phencyclidine, or cocaine”).
  • If a student possesses or distributes a large enough quantity of Adderall in violation of the law, he or she would be guilty of amphetamine trafficking, G.S. 90-95(h)(3c), and its long mandatory prison terms. The minimum trafficking quantity for amphetamines is 28 grams, but that is the weight of the mixture – the entire pill or capsule – not just the active ingredient. I don’t know how much Adderall pills or capsules typically weigh, so I don’t know how many a person would need to have in order for the trafficking laws to apply.

I also don’t know how often those criminal penalties are invoked. A few minutes on Google didn’t turn up any sign of criminal prosecutions for Adderall abuse in North Carolina. However, in other states, some lawyers are advertising themselves as Adderall defense attorneys (examples here and here), so I suspect there are at least some cases being brought. If you know of cases in North Carolina, please let me know or post a comment.