The Impacts of Prescribed Medication for Medical Students

Medical students in the United States come from all walks of life and all countries of the world. Medical education in the United States draws students that are both diverse and highly competitive. While many students are prescribed medication for legitimate needs, there are also some that use prescription medication to help in academic performance. Medical students in recent years have increased the reporting of their disabilities to their schools, requiring specific accommodations under federal law. If you have legal questions about prescription medications or the disability requirements of a school, then it is important to speak to an experienced attorney.

The Prevalence of Prescription Medications in Medical School

Prescription drugs can be pretty easily found across all university and medical school campuses across the country. Prescription drugs are readily available at any pharmacy, and all that is needed is a prescription from a physician. Medical students commonly face issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, lack of sleep, and stress. Since medical students are already working within the medical arena, it is fairly easy for them to get prescriptions for various medications. Various medications are used to help these students manage their medical issues while balancing the workload of a medical student. Students who are prescribed certain medications may also misuse them, which can affect their health and academic performance. It is common to find medical students using prescription drugs to aid in school success, relaxation, or pleasure.

Why Medical Students Are Drawn to Prescription Drugs

Medical students are drawn to prescription drugs because of the benefits that these drugs can provide them. In the competitive arena of medical school, students fight for positioning to try to match with the best jobs in their desired areas. Drugs that enhance brain performance or stimulate the brain are widely used by medical students. Certain prescription drugs can help students study longer and perform better on exams. This category of drugs has seen a significant increase in use and popularity among college and post-grad students, such as medical students. Some of the most common reasons why medical students may use prescription drugs include:

  • All-night study sessions
  • Better concentration and focus in class
  • Diet
  • Grade improvement
  • Athletic performance
  • Social use or pleasure

While medical students should know better, many are under the belief that since these drugs are by prescription, they are safer than street drugs. The reality is that prescription drugs can cause significant harm when they are misused as well. Students who use prescription drugs often do so because they believe that the potential benefits of these drugs outweigh the potential risks.

The Most Common Prescription Drugs Among Medical Students

Medical students tend to prefer prescription drugs that aid in study and academic performance. It is increasingly common for students to be prescribed a medication that can also aid in their schoolwork. Some of the most common prescription drugs that medical students use include:

  • Adderall – a medication that is used to treat hyperactivity and impulse control. Adderall stimulates the central nervous system to help the user maintain focus. Adderall combines two different stimulants, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, to help the brain and body avoid being distracted by other stimuli. Side effects can include increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and even death in the most serious cases. Adderall is the most well-known “study drug” in the United States today.
  • Ritalin – a medication that is used to treat hyperactivity and behavioral disorders. Ritalin stimulates the central nervous system to help the user maintain focus. Ritalin is made up of a stimulant known as methylphenidate. Side effects can include increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and even death in the most serious cases.
  • Pain pills – Some of the most common pills prescribed for serious and chronic pain include codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, or oxycodone. These pills should be used carefully as they have shown a high propensity for addiction and abuse. Make sure you are following your doctor's recommendations and not increasing the dosage of prescription pain medication.
  • Modafinil – a medication that is used to treat sleep disorders like narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and others. This medication helps defeat fatigue and improve alertness, motivation, and memory. Side effects include indigestion, body pain, difficulty sleeping, and nausea, among others. Modafinil is commonly sold under the brand name Provigil.

While Adderall and Ritalin are prescription medications that are used to treat ADHD, the amphetamines in these drugs can be harmful and can lead to abuse and addiction. Modafinil is a prescription medication that is prescribed to help people who suffer from narcolepsy and should not be misused by others. Those who do not suffer from narcolepsy have found that modafinil can lead to high performance even when sleep deprived.

How Medical Marijuana Fits into the Equation

Medical marijuana is a complex and inconsistent issue because a lot of what can or can't happen first starts with the legal status of medical marijuana at the state level. If the state where you live and attend medical school prohibits medical marijuana, then there is zero likelihood that you will be able to legally use marijuana during medical school. If the state where you live and attend medical school allows medical marijuana, then your individual school's rules are the first place to look to determine what you can and can't do regarding medical marijuana use. Your school's rules may disallow medical marijuana use on campus or at any school events. Since most medical schools receive federal funding in their operations, they are also bound to follow federal laws. Federally, marijuana is still illegal both medicinally and recreationally. If marijuana is legalized at the federal level, then it is likely that many schools will make changes to their marijuana rules.

Most schools still prohibit medical marijuana use, even in states where marijuana has been legalized recreationally. As an example, the University of Michigan has continued to prohibit marijuana use on campus of any kind even after the state has passed both the medical and recreational use of marijuana. This is at the university where the famed “Hash Bash” has been held annually for nearly 50 years and continues through the present day. Hash Bash is an annual event that takes place at the University of Michigan Diag to show civil disobedience in the hopes of reforming marijuana laws.

Many medical schools have refused to add medical marijuana courses to medical school curriculums to this point. This leaves future doctors unable to answer basic questions about the drug and its effects unless they do their own research. If you end up practicing medicine in a state where medical and recreational marijuana exists, then you will need to understand its potential for benefit to properly prescribe medical marijuana to patients.

If you are a medical student who uses medical marijuana, then it is important that you follow any and all rules and regulations regarding marijuana use on campus or at any school events. Having a medical marijuana prescription is not a license to medicate how and where you want. Doing so outside of the school rules can lead to punishment, including dismissal from school and potential criminal charges. If you have legal questions, then it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney.

How Prescription Medications Can Help Progression

The potential benefits of certain prescription medications are apparent, and medical students are keen to try to realize these benefits for themselves. When used properly, certain medications can help students in their academic work. If a student has problems focusing, then the student's doctor may determine that a medication such as Adderall may be beneficial. If a student has sleep issues, then a drug like modafinil can be helpful for the student to help regulate sleep. If a student deals with chronic pain, then certain pain medication or medical marijuana where allowed can help the student manage their pain and allow them to focus on their studies.

When students use these drugs as a means to try to get ahead, then that is where problems are more likely to arise. It is important that any medication, prescribed or not, is previously approved by your physician. Medical students may want to skip this advice due to their advanced medical knowledge and their belief in their ability to take care of themselves. It is important that any prescribed drug is used within the doctor's recommendations to help avoid the potential for misuse and abuse. When prescription drugs are misused or abused, then the potential for harmful side effects increases.

The Potential Side Effects of Prescription Medications

Prescription medications often carry a slew of potential side effects, which can be harmful or even fatal in certain circumstances. Some of the potential side effects of prescription medications include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Blurred vision
  • Stomach problems
  • Reduced circulation
  • Dehydration

When these effects are combined with someone who has a heart issue, then the risks increase for the user to experience heart failure and even death. The potential side effects must be carefully weighed against the potential benefit of anyone who is being prescribed medication. Some side effects are not harmful to certain users, while the same side effects can be fatal to others.

It is important to pay attention to these potential side effects and monitor if you are experiencing any. If your medication or dosage needs to be changed, then it is important that you follow up with your doctor. Prescription drugs may help with certain issues but can cause others that can affect your academic performance. It is important not to self-medicate.

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

Medical students, along with other students in other disciplines, face stressors that increase their potential risk for substance abuse. There are several reasons why medical students can be at risk for substance abuse. Some of the most common risk factors for medical students include:

  • Being a medical student: this in itself carries a level of stress. Medical students commonly face pressures to succeed from family, friends, peers, and themselves. These pressures can lead to unhealthy habits of inadequate sleep and poor eating, which can open the door for substances to help manage.
  • Stress from patient interaction: while most students love the feeling of being able to help someone, as doctors, they must also deal with the emotional effects of dealing with patients who are terminally ill who they cannot help. This pressure can open the door to substances to help manage and avoid burnout.
  • Failure to report: medical students are often reluctant to admit that they have a substance abuse issue and are just as reluctant to report a fellow student who appears to have a substance abuse issue. Unreported, the issue can become worse over time.

Whenever there is a heightened level of stress or distress for someone over a period, the potential for substance abuse generally increases. It is important to recognize these risk factors to help medical students avoid misusing prescription medications and/or using illicit drugs. It is also important to understand how the side effects of a prescription drug can affect your schoolwork and academic performance.

How Prescription Medications Can Lead to Dismissal

If a medical student is abusing or misusing their prescription medication, then it can lead to physical and mental health issues. These physical and mental health effects can lead to other problems for the student. Treatable issues such as insomnia and irritability can hurt a student's ability to finish their work to the best of their ability. If a student is improperly sharing prescription drugs with others, either by giving the drugs away or selling them, then they can face disciplinary proceedings from school as well as potential criminal charges. These disciplinary proceedings can lead to dismissal from school, especially if criminal charges are filed by the local prosecutor. This can also make it extremely difficult for the student to finish medical school and become a licensed physician. The current extent of drug abuse in medical students is not well known.

How Substance Abuse Can Prevent Professional Licensing

Before a doctor can practice medicine in any form in the United States, the doctor must be licensed by the state medical licensing board in the state where he or she intends to practice. If a hopeful licensee has previously documented issues with substance abuse, then this can lead to difficulty and even the prevention of being licensed. Physicians and others in the medical field face a heightened level of scrutiny regarding substance abuse issues due to their responsibilities towards patients and their care. A physician with a substance abuse issue not only risks his or her own health, but the physician also risks the health of any patients in their care.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Explained

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The ADA went into effect in 1990 and was passed to ensure that people with disabilities are given the same rights and opportunities as anyone else. The ADA prohibits discrimination against “qualified individuals with disabilities” in both the employment and educational sectors. The ADA is broken into five sections:

  1. Employment
  2. Public Services: State and Local Government
  3. Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Companies
  4. Telecommunications
  5. Miscellaneous

The area of education is covered by the ADA. This means that all medical schools must be ADA compliant or face sanction from the federal government and potential civil suit from an individual that is being treated unequally due to his or her disability. The ADA also requires that once a medical school is aware of a disability, that they make all reasonable accommodations to allow the disabled individual to fully participate in all medical school activities.

How the Americans with Disabilities Act Relates to Prescribed Medications

The Americans with Disabilities Act can relate to certain prescribed medications by what the underlying health issue the medication is prescribed to help with. If someone is prescribed medications for emotional or mental illness, then this diagnosis can be considered a disability under the provisions of the ADA. If a medical student is prescribed a medication that is meant to help with a certain diagnosis, then they can be afforded protection under the ADA. If a medical student is protected by the ADA, then the school that the student attends must make reasonable accommodations to allow the student to participate fully.

The Accommodations Required Under the ADA

Under the ADA, medical schools are required to take measures to ensure that educational opportunities, extracurricular activities, and all school facilities are available and accessible for all students. “Reasonable accommodations” under the ADA include things such as:

  • Modification of class schedule
  • Extra time allowed for exams
  • Notetakers
  • Special computer equipment

When discussing the ADA, it is necessary to also discuss the requirements that a medical school's buildings and grounds must have to be in compliance with. Some of the requirements the ADA places on the buildings of educational institutions include:

  • Installing ramps
  • Installing grab bars in bathrooms
  • Installing elevators
  • Making door openings and buildings wheelchair friendly

The ADA, as a whole, gives those who have a disability legal recourse if they face discrimination because of their disability. It was passed as an extension of the civil rights act in an effort to make it illegal to discriminate against someone for almost any reason. If you have faced discrimination due to your disability, then it is important to speak to an experienced attorney.

What to Do if Your Medical School is Not Complying with the ADA

Any medical student that has a disability under the definition of the ADA is eligible to receive accommodations. An individual with a history of academic success is not precluded from being considered disabled under the definition of the ADA. It is important to view a disability as an obstacle and not a limitation on ability as all medical students are high achievers, while some are disabled. If your medical school is not properly complying with the provisions of the ADA, then you can either file charges with the federal government or directly in court. If your school is found to have violated the ADA, then the school can be required to pay money damages to the person discriminated against. The school can also be forced to make accommodations and even change policies.

An Example of an ADA-Related Lawsuit

Students are often denied when they request more time to study for a test, and it can turn into an ADA claim. In Dean v. University at Buffalo School of Medical & Biomedical Sciences 804 F.3d 178 (2d Cir. 2015), a student who was being treated for depression asked for more time to study for his Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam. He had been diagnosed with depression and stated that he needed time for his medication to regulate and become normal in his body before he would be able to start studying. The school rejected his request, and he then filed suit in federal court. The federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that his case could continue to trial as the school had not shown how this requested accommodation would impose an undue financial or administrative burden on the school. In this case, prescribed medication and the underlying diagnosis were the basis for an ADA-related lawsuit to ensure discrimination does not take place.

Why Hiring the Lento Law Firm is the Right Choice

If you are a medical student who has legal questions related to prescribed medications, then it is important to seek the advice of an experienced attorney. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped hundreds of medical students across the country with various school-related issues and legal matters. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to learn why hiring attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team are the right choice to help you with your case.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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