Background A study from US found that non-medical use of prescription stimulants in students ranged from 0–25%, and a study from Cambridge University revealed that 10% of students have taken ‘smart drugs.’
Although there are no studies in the UK on the prevalence of Methylphenidate use in medical students, we are aware of this practice first hand. Some report buying Methylphenidate online.
Aims/Method We consulted colleagues in the legal profession, GMC guidelines, police and pharmacy to clarify implications of buying Methylphenidate online.
Results Methylphenidate and the law
Methylphenidate is a class B drug controlled drug.
It is unlawful to have a controlled drug in your possession unless you have authorisation in the form of a licence, eg. prescription.
The actual act of buying methylphenidate online is not illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act but you commit an offence once you have the drug in your possession.
Possession could lead to up to 5 years in prison and an unlimited fine.
GMC Guidance The GMC has clear guidance on self-prescribing.
You must avoid prescribing for yourself or anyone with whom you have a close personal relationship.
You must not prescribe controlled medicines for yourself unless no other person with the legal right to prescribe is available to assess and prescribe without delay, which would put your life/health at risk, or cause unavoidable pain or distress.
Methylphenidate does not fit into this category. Students found to be self-prescribing could face a fitness to practice hearing/professional conduct meeting.
Conclusion There is anecdotal evidence that medical students in the UK are taking cognitive enhancement drugs.
The GMC has clear guidance on self prescribing – the off-license use of Methylphenidate as a study aid would not be accepted.
Some are buying it from unregulated pharmacies online – possession is illegal as Methylphenidate is a class B drug.
Students should be made aware of the risks so that they do not inadvertently compromise their health or future professional careers.
Universities should ensure that the issue of online purchasing and self medication, is explicitly discussed with medical students as part of their curriculum.
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