Canada is in the midst of an "escalating prescription drug abuse crisis." Prescription drugs like OxyContin and Methadone have become household names, while the rise of prescription drug abuse in high schools is escalating at a crazy rate. The most recent drug study out of Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto showed that the abuse of prescription meds in high schools took home the bronze medal for most-used method of intoxication, right behind smoking weed and drinkin' booze.
Adderall XR, a drug used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children and adults, seems to have become the new drug of choice for students who can't focus properly. In 2005, Health Canada banned Adderall XR after 20 mysterious deaths were connected to the drug. That ban was quickly reversed, but there are still major concerns about the drug's side effects, especially when it comes to its impact on children who are supposedly afflicted with ADD.
If you've been anywhere near a classroom in the past five years, you've probably already heard of Adderall XR. Known as the "study drug," it's not necessarily the worst thing you could do to yourself in the scary world of prescription drugs, but it is still an amphetamine that's very similar to speed, and has some pretty terrifying side effects if and when it's abused.
I decided to go out and talk to some people who have an Adderall habit—because I couldn't get any solid answers from Health Canada, and CAMH wouldn't return my calls. Everyone I spoke with said Adderall is extremely easy to get. People can either fake their way through an ADHD diagnosis to get a doctor's note, or they can find someone who's already done exactly that, and is looking to cash in on their pill supply. On average, an Adderall pill will run you about three bucks, but students have told me the demand around exam periods can raise the price of one pill up to $15. It's also easy to wonder if what has been called the "ADHD epidemic" is even real—some would argue that it isn't. To be fair, Adderall is a huge blessing for those who truly have Attention Deficit Disorder. But for a large amount of people, using Adderall has turned into a frightening addiction that can lead to extreme paranoia, bodily harm, or death.
I don't have ADD but I played with Adderall for a couple months. It eventually made me feel totally schizophrenic, it was really bad. At the time, I was injecting cocaine and crystal meth, drinking in excess and smoking weed. Obviously I had a drug problem, but Adderall was the one drug that made me completely snap. I started believing my paranoia. It's very addictive and at first you don't even realize it. Because it doesn't make you feel 'high' like other drugs, you're just so focused and have all this energy; you forget you're even on it.
That's the problem. Aside from it making you hallucinate, you stay up for multiple days because you never feel like you need to sleep. A friend of mine was getting prescribed multiple prescriptions from their doctor, so we were just using her prescription. I would just binge on them. At one point my paranoia and hallucinations got so bad that I thought there were refugees living in my apartment hiding in my cupboards and in my closets. I'm not sure what they wanted, but I knew for sure eventually they were going to hurt me. I also thought people were climbing up trees to get on my balcony and this is when I called the police on myself. I was sitting on my bed with a friend looking at the Venetian blinds and it looked like someone was pointing a long barrel rifle through the blinds at me. The operator didn't seem to believe what I was telling her and I yelled at her, "Your job is to serve and protect."
Shortly after this I stopped using the drug, because I finally started to realize I had a very serious problem. It took a while for me to really believe I had imagined the whole thing. For days after I would stand outside my apartment looking up at my balcony, positive I'd see a refugee with a gun standing up there.
I'm not sure if I have ADD, but I have been on anti-depressants my whole life. I had taken an Adderall at a party once and had never felt so happy in my life. I told my psychiatrist about this and he put me on it right away. It felt like I was cured from depression for a little while. I was happy, social, and losing weight. I felt like I was on top of the world. Then over the next two years I started to feel an itch, something felt wrong. It got to the point where my whole identity was wrapped up in this drug.
I went off Adderall for 10 months because I didn't like feeling addicted to something. I've never been so scared in my entire life. No one could ever have had any idea what I was going through. I had severe emotional withdrawal symptoms that didn't let up. It was a constant hum of depression. I had expressed to my doctor on more than one occasion that I was developing a problem and he refused to accept that. It was really strange. His opinion regarding Adderall was slanted in a very strong way toward thinking that it was just good for you. But deep down I knew what I was experiencing was total dependency and so it was really bad. I also started to have severe Adderall anxiety. It felt like something was missing if I wasn't high.
It got to the point where I once took too much and my heart started beating out of my chest and I couldn't breathe. I knew I had taken too much. I fully blacked out for ten minutes and then came to. I honestly thought I was going to die. But the worst part is that I had an essay due and I did the same thing the next day. I was so focused on the essay I overlooked what had happened. It was like I was on another planet, and the next day I did the same thing and had the same reaction. It was then I realized how serious my problem was. I had to drop out of school because I was literally scared for my life.
At $3 a pill, my roommates and I would go in on a whole bottle and divvy them up so we had like, 20 pills each. I started using it for finals, but then I started using it for papers too. I really loved writing on it, because it increased the flow and vibrancy of my intellectual processes to an ecstatic pitch. But then I would also become engrossed in things that weren't school work, like the first stanzas of poems. I became obsessed with "DER ERLKONIG". I would write it out by hand over and over in German and inwardly recite it while doing so.
A big problem was that Adderall had totally exacerbated my existing sexually compulsive behaviors. There would be times I would show up at Library and then a half an hour later, be in the other end of the city sleeping with Romanian med student I had met on Craigslist. There were nights where I would stay up until dawn and go on the Craigslist's casual encounters section and go over all of them in every city, obsessively and it made me so horny—Portland, Montreal, New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago.
I got the point where I would be popping five at once and would be awake for three days. There would be times where I would be in a final exam, having not slept for three days and it would take me five minutes to write a single sentence. My brain literally couldn't function. Things slept from my mental grip like a wet bar—I was paranoid, I would only eat a banana a day, and I was always sleep deprived. I had to force feed myself because I really didn't want to eat. My life spun totally out of control, I always felt a sense of abject doom.
I was extremely addicted to Adderall, I'm trying to stay off the drug now, but it's hard.
Follow Angela on Twitter: @angelamaries
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