BACKGROUND : Methylphenidate hydrochloride (MPH) is used in the treatment of attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The non-medical use of MPH by learners and students
has been reported by numerous studies from abroad. The practice stems from beliefs about the
benefits of MPH in achieving academic success. Little is known about the use of MPH in South
African student populations.
OBJECTIVES : The study set out to determine (1) the extent and dynamics associated with MPH
use and (2) poly-substance use among undergraduate students attending a South African
METHODS : 818 students took part in a written, group-administered survey. Data analysis
resulted in descriptive results regarding MPH use and tests of association identified differences
in MPH and poly-substance use among respondents.
RESULTS : One in six respondents (17.2%) has used MPH in the past, although only 2.9% have
been diagnosed with ADHD. Nearly a third (31.7%) of users obtained MPH products illegally.
The majority (69.1%) used MPH only during periods of academic stress. A significant
association ( p < 0.001) was found between MPH use and the frequency of using alcohol,
tobacco, cannabis, hard drugs (e.g. cocaine) and prescription medication.
CONCLUSION : MPH use among students appears similar to experiences abroad, especially in the
absence of clinical diagnosis for ADHD. Institutions of higher education should inform parents
and students about the health risks associated with the illicit use of MPH. Prescribers and
dispensers of MPH products should pay close attention to practices of stockpiling medication
and poly-substance use among students who use MPH.