Background: From a large-scale survey among Flemish university and college students, it is known that a substantial part of these students (almost 7%) use stimulant drugs – mainly methylphenidates, such as Ritalin®, prescribed to treat ADHD – as a means for performance enhancement. Apart from the question of unfair competition during the exams, the misuse of prescription stimulants can also have detrimental psychological and physical health effects, rendering it a research priority.
Although we have a view on the prevalence of the prescription stimulant misuse by students, almost nothing is known about the characteristics of these users, its impact on students' physical and mental well-being, and the sociological and psycho-social motives to misuse stimulants. In addition, there is a dearth of knowledge on the supply side of this public health problem.
Research Objectives: The proposed study aims to fill the above-cited research gaps and generate scientific knowledge on the misuse of methylphenidates in Flanders using an innovative, comprehensive research design. In particular, the proposed research program aims to study (1) which students groups misuse these stimulants as well as the subsequent impact of this use on their well-being, (2) why these students perform this behavior and (3) how these students access the prescription drugs.
Methods: The study uses an exploratory mixed methods research design comprising three phases, each addressing an above-cited research objective. Firstly, the available dataset from the quantitative survey among Flemish university and college students (n = 18,000) will be employed to identify the user population and measure their well-being (1). Secondly, a more focused quantitative and qualitative data gathering will be executed to identify the mechanisms underlying the misuse by testing two alternative conceptual models described in the literature (2). Finally, a web-survey among medical doctors and pharmacists will be employed to create scientific knowledge on the supply system of the research issue (3).
Expected outcomes: The proposed study can have both theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, it is the first study to explore the complex mechanisms underlying stimulant drug use among a large student population. Practically, the resulting scientific knowledge potentially enables according effective preventative interventions to steer students away from these detrimental health choices.