The New York Times recently published a lengthy advertisement for the amphetamine, Adderall. Technically, it wasn’t supposed to be a commercial. It was a feature story entitled, “Risky Rise of the Good Grade Pill.” But the manufacturer of Adderall would be hard pressed to create a more effective marketing campaign aimed at high school and college students than the Times‘ article. The phrase “good grade pill” pretty much says it all. If you take Adderall, you will get better grades and all the benefits that come from better grades–admission to better colleges, improved job prospects, and happier parents.
It’s a seductive message, especially for teenagers who attend highly competitive academic institutions. To be fair, the Times does a good job of painting a picture of the relaxed culture that surrounds the use of Adderall at highly regarded private and public schools throughout the country.
Here’s what I mean by relaxed. The article correctly points out that Adderall is a controlled substance and that it is illegal to provide it for a non-perscription use.
The D.E.A. lists prescription stimulants like Adderall and Vyvanse (amphetamines) and Ritalin and Focalin (methylphenidates) as Class 2 controlled substances — the same as cocaine and morphine — because they rank among the most addictive substances that have a medical use. (By comparison, the long-abused anti-anxiety drug Valium is in the lower Class 4.) So they carry high legal risks, too, as few teenagers appreciate that merely giving a friend an Adderall or Vyvanse pill is the same as selling it and can be prosecuted as a felony.
No one who is interviewed in the story, however, seems remotely concerned that they will be arrested for selling Adderral, or that law enforcement might knock on their door asking them about their connection to the drug. This is true of the students who sell Adderall to their classmates, the ones who lie to mental health professionals so that they can get a prescription, or the mental health professionals themselves. The article doesn’t explicitly say so, but you can tell than none of these folks have been called down to the police station or been approached by a DEA agent.
As a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles who represents juveniles, let me clear. The last thing for which I am advocating is an increased law enforcement presence in our schools. I am not suggesting that it would be a good thing for us to ruin the lives of academically ambitious high school juniors by giving them a criminal record. We already have far too much of that going in our schools. Our schools are becoming a pipeline to prison, and often the first offense is an infraction that is much more minor than posessing a Class 2 controlled substance.
What accounts for the relaxed manner in which the students who take Adderall discuss what they and their classmates do? Perhaps they know that their ritzy and respected schools aren’t likely to be raided by the police. Perhaps the students feel that their well-t0-do and politically connected parents can bail them out of (literally and figuratively) any mess they get themselves into. Whatever the case, it is hard to read the New York Times’ story without concluding that: (1) taking Adderall will help you focus, thereby improving your grades; and (2) law enforcement seems to be rather forgiving, at least where affluent public and private schools are concerned.
As a parent, my concern is that the New York Times just increased the number of high school and college students who will try Adderall. As a lawyer, I predict that some law enforcent agencies will crack down even more severely on teens who misuse prescription drugs. That crack down, however, may not happen at the schools that were mentioned in the New York Times article.