All posts by Amanda Rhoades

The USF students interviewed in this story all agreed that stimulants, like Adderall, are easy to obtain on campus (even without a prescription.) Photo by Amanda Rhoades/ Foghorn

The Cost of Achievement by Any Means Necessary

A Report about College Students Abusing A.D.H.D. Medication, Just in Time for Midterms

Editor’s note: All the names of students and the name of a narcotics dealer quoted in this story have been changed at their request.

On a Friday night, outside of a pub in the Inner Richmond, Owen Barrett, 23, lit a cigarette as he tried to focus his eyes on me. “Hey, is it true you have a Ritalin ‘script?” my friend and fellow USF student slurred.

He offered to buy any prescription Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (A.D.H.D) medication I had access to. Barrett is a junior business major with an impressive resume; he has already been offered a $60,000 per year salary immediately following graduation. When I reminded him that he no longer had to worry about acing his classes, he giggled. “Yeah, but I’ve got to get through finals somehow.”

Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, Concerta, Dexedrine and Focalin are all prescription names for stimulant medication used to treat A.D.H.D. While there are relatively subtle differences between these medications, they all have the effect of limiting the inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity that characterize the disorder.

However, when the user doesn’t have A.D.H.D., those medications give sharp focus on the task at hand and lend a sense of self-confidence. This has made it a popular drug choice for college students across the country who, like Barrett, don’t have A.D.H.D. but buy it illegally in order to study harder and have enough energy to manage all of their responsibilities.

A.D.H.D. medications are classified as a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substance Act, meaning being caught in possession of them without a prescription is a felony. Those who obtain the drugs illegally risk a minimum $1000 fine and a possible prison sentence of one year if they’re caught.

Every interviewee agreed that finding an illegal supply is seldom a problem. According to Dr. Lawrence Diller, M.D., a behavioral and developmental pediatrician who has written extensively on the use and abuse of A.D.H.D. medication, the United States uses approximately 70% of the world’s supply of prescription stimulants, despite only having 4% of the population. “There’s just a lot of it readily available,” he said. “Most people diagnosed with A.D.H.D. don’t really need medication for it…there will always be a core group that abuses it and people will sell it if they don’t really need it.”

The high demand for stimulants among college students makes it relatively easy to sell for those who have a supply.

With a smile that suggests he knows the punch line before he hears the joke, Poindexter-esque glasses, and a shock of red hair, Jay Asher, 25, is a far cry from the stereotype of a drug dealer.

“It was kind of an accident, someone offered to sell me a big bag [of Adderall] for relatively cheap so I bought it and sold a bunch,” he said. Sipping a whiskey-and-coke at a bar in Polk Gulch, Asher explained his business practices. Though he is a recent film school graduate who works in a coffee shop, Asher has occasionally dealt Adderall to college students, including some who attend USF.

“I took some too, but I sold [Adderall] over a period of six months… It was $5 a pill but I sold it for $7. Thin profit margin, but I mostly sold [to friends],” he said.

USF student Alex O’Shaughnessy, 21, has never received drugs from Asher, although he’s found stimulants easy to procure. “I just ask around and one of my friends is bound to have some or know someone who does,” he said. Though he was originally opposed to the idea of using stimulants, afraid he would become dependent on them to complete his schoolwork, O’Shaughnessy now takes a 25mg dose of Vyvanse when he has to study for a test or complete a big project. He also takes it before job interviews to bolster his mental agility and social skills. “It makes me feel sharper,” O’Shaughnessy said.

Summer Roberts, 22, is bright-eyed, soft spoken and seemingly always on the go. A senior media studies major at USF, she holds down a part-time job and a leadership position in a student organization, on top of her full school schedule. Roberts admitted she is scared she has already developed a dependency on Adderall. “It’s not good for me… but it makes me feel like I can handle [my school work],” she said.

On the day of our formal interview, she only had 15mg of Adderall pumping through her veins, a lower dose than what she’d grown accustomed to. Roberts started using Adderall to do her homework during her freshman year of college with the occasional 5mg pill. Currently, she takes a 30 mg pill several times a week. “I don’t think I have A.D.H.D.,” she said “I just need it for the motivation.”

A story entitled “Drowned in a Stream of Prescriptions,” published by the New York Times on February 2, 2013, profiled another college student who used both Adderall and Vyvanse to study. After occasionally buying them from friends during college, Richard Fee obtained a legal prescription for both medications in order to do well on the MCAT, the entrance exam for medical school. Fee was an award-winning athlete and class president of Greensboro College, where he graduated with honors with a degree in biology and chemistry. However, Fee’s story took a dark turn when he became addicted to amphetamine, the main ingredient in both Adderall and Vyvanse.

Amphetamine-based medications like Adderall and Vyvanse are unique from other A.D.H.D. medications in the respect that they also can create a sense of euphoria. However, paranoia, aggression and hallucinations are all symptoms of amphetamine abuse and Fee became dependent on the medication, crippled by those symptoms and the debilitating depression that can occur with the ‘come down.’ Fee sought multiple prescriptions from local psychiatrists, convincing several that he needed Adderall, even as he grew increasingly psychotic and violent as a result of his addiction.

After being admitted and released from a mental institution, Fee sought received a 90-day Adderall prescription for 50mg from another psychiatrist. Fee took his last dose of Adderall in early October 2011, after his parents intervened. For addicts, quitting stimulants abruptly is dangerous and can result in psychotic reactions, anxiety and severe depression. On November 7, 2011 Richard Fee committed suicide at the age of 25, a direct result of his long struggle with addiction and subsequent drug withdrawal.

No one interviewed for this story knew of anyone struggling with an addiction to stimulants, nor did they view stimulant abuse as something that could result in tragedy, as Fee’s life did. “No more than half-dozen students come in every semester [for a stimulant dependence issue],” said Dr. Barbara Thomas, the senior director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at USF. “We’re no better and no worse than most colleges,” she said.

However, Kamal Harb, the director of Health Promotion Services was less certain. “We haven’t surveyed students about that sort of thing in years,” he said “we don’t want to overwhelm students with surveys.”

CAPS typically refers students with substance abuse issues to counseling outside of USF. “Certainly folks come here if they feel like they have a problem,” Dr. Thomas said “…[we have] the Big Book study group that meets weekly. It’s facilitated by students… we don’t advise or anything.”

O’Shaughnessy is not dependent on Vyvanse, but he’s well aware of the negative side effects. “I don’t eat as much on the days I take it… it’s harder to get into the mood for sex” he said, both of which are common side effect of stimulant use, regardless of legality. However, he would recommend it to other students: “It makes you get s*** done.”

Roberts is considering trying to wean herself off Adderall but the concept is difficult to stomach, considering her job and extra-curricular activities take up roughly 40 hours of the week. However, Roberts has often found herself fixated on the details of assignments, spending hours reframing a single paragraph, down to comma placement. The keen sense of focus Adderall once gave her now borders on outright obsession.

She has also admitted to experiencing hallucinations when she takes higher doses; objects move suddenly, shadowy figures walk down the halls and whispery voices come from nowhere. Following a three-day Adderall binge during final exams last year, she flew into a rage at another USF student in line at the cafeteria, calling her a “fat bitch” and running out of the building.

Poor health plagues Roberts as a result of her continued abuse, she said. “I don’t eat when I take Adderall and I don’t go to the gym either because your heart goes so fast anyways, I’m afraid something will happen… I’ve heard people have died when they snort it, their heart stops.”

Though there is no evidence to suggest that ingesting amphetamines in any way directly causes heart attacks, according to University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research, prolonged amphetamine use can cause cardiac arrhythmias and difficulty breathing. The long-time psychological impacts are also serious; the use of amphetamine in particular has been linked to depression, anxiety and other mood and behavioral disorders.

Though the accessibility of A.D.H.D. medication, both legally and illegally, is undoubtedly a factor in its wide-spread abuse, it’s also symptomatic of a cultural construct. Dr. Lawrence Diller blames what he calls a ‘materialist meritocracy’. “[Our culture] creates anxiety about self-image and self-esteem, creating intolerance towards differences in personality and performance,” he said. “We equate acquisition, including achievement, with happiness.”

As a generation that’s growing up in a post-recession era, they’re faced with daunting odds. A college degree is no longer guaranteed a career and jobs are scarce to begin with. A resume filled with internships, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs and excellent grades is considered the norm among college graduates. Fighting constantly to achieve more is, as Dr. Diller suggested, the result of a fear of not being ‘good enough.’ As people grow, they eventually come to realize the sacrifices they’ve made for causes that bring them no personal validation. The resulting discontentment leads to people fighting for something more profound, as hard as they have fought for all their accolades and honors. Perhaps that struggle is the root of happiness.


Macklemore Rocks USF

The Seattle based rapper Macklemore, born Ben Haggerty, and music producer Ryan Lewis rocked the crowd at USF Friday night in their last US concert before continuing their tour in Japan.

USF student Royce Anies, aka Dj Devarock, got the intimate crowd of concert goers pumped before the lead act took the stage, blasting all things bass infused, ranging from Nicki Minaj to Swedish House Mafia. However, not even the bone rattling bass could have rivaled the chants of “Mack-le-more! Mack-le-more!” and screams of elation that filled Koret’s Swig Gym as they took the stage. Macklemore jumped around stage, grabbing the audience’s hands and shouted every word of his rhymes in unison, nearly drowning out the rapper himself at times. However, the crowd listened attentively when Macklemore took a moment to talk about the city by the bay. “You know, I like my things a little older, worn out…I love San Francisco. Do you know which part I like best? The tenderloin…The other side of Union Square.” He said, continuing, “I like my cities with grit, gum on the sidewalks. San Francisco has grit.”

At that point, Macklemore noted that many members of the audience were wearing apparently thifted fur coats, a shout out to his two time platinum song “Thrift Shop,” which has also claimed the number one spot on the Billboard top 100 charts for three weeks, in addition to topping the charts in Denmark, UK, Canada, France, Australia and New Zealand. He asked to borrow one concert goers coat, which felt “a little small” according to the rapper who then launched into “Thrift Shop”, accompanied by Michael Wansley, better known as Wanz. The song was well received by the electrified audience, feeding off of

Macklemore’s enthusiastic performance, who jumped around the stage and bumped shoulders with his fellow musicians. At the end of the song, Macklemore asked the audience to “crowd surf the bear”, or get the borrowed coat back to the person who gave it to him in the first place.
The relatively small crowd gave the performance a feeling of intimacy, and Macklemore’s penchant for talking to the audience made the experience personal. It’s not a concert anyone in the audience will soon forget.

 

*For more pictures, check out the Foghorn’s Flickr account, which has an entire photo collection of Friday’s concert

Roman Coppola Tackles Break-ups in “A Brief Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III”

“A Brief Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,” written and directed by Roman Coppola, is a break up story. Charlie Sheen, who stars in the title role of Charles Swan III, plays the exact same character he almost always does, the narcissistic, hard boozing creative type who inexplicably has scads of women hounding after him.

Predictably, he develops feelings for a young, attractive blonde named Ivana, played by Katheryn Winnick, who leaves him after she realizes he’s unable to let go of the glory of his former flings. The movie that follows is Charles’ struggle to pick himself back up after she’s gone, going through a series of fantasies that place the blame on her.

When I asked Roman Coppola why he chose to portray her as a villain, using heavy handed symbolism like a suspiciously nazi-esque armband and the outdated western stereotype of a “savage” Native American, he replied “when you’re going through a break up, you sort of fantasize to get through it. Charles is a graphic designer, an advertising guy. He lets his imagination run wild with it…But, there’s a tenderness to their relationship, they really like each other and I think that shows.”

Ivana’s side of the story is largely ignored until she apologizes to Charles, despite the fact of how their relationship ends but Coppola explained that “the story is Charles’ fantasy; he doesn’t take the blame”. Indeed, the fantasy aspect is perhaps one of the few selling points of this movie, aside from Patricia Arquette’s authentic turn as Charles’ sister, and Bill Murray’s role as Charles’ friend and frequent aid in these mental wanderings Charles takes.

The cinematography seems to borrow from Coppola’s earlier work on Wes Anderson movies, most recently “Moonrise Kingdom,” which he co-wrote. The vibrant colors and distinctive use of imagery harkens back to Charles’ career as a graphic designer said Coppola. The distinctive style candy coats the movie, making it watchable but an ultimately forgettable affair.

Foghorn Grade: C+

40 Years since Roe v. Wade, Some Still Determined to Halt Progress

This week marked the 40th  anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion and affirmed that people with a uterus have the right to choose what’s best for them in conjunction with their doctor, without the interference of politics. However, this weekend also marked the “Walk for Life” march in San Francisco, in which hundreds of anti-abortion activists toted pictures of babies and religious icons. When I walked past the march, I noticed that, while there were many women, the majority of the participants were cisgender men. In fact, the current president, John Paul Dugyon, of USF’s anti-choice group ‘Students for Life’ is a cisgender male. What I don’t understand is why people without a uterus are trying to tell me what I can and cannot do with mine.

Although it’s been established that access to abortion is a legal right, there continues to be a squabble over reproductive health care despite the fact that it’s been proven that having access to those medical services is good for both individuals and society writ large. In fact, a study conducted by UCSF confirmed that women who are blocked from having abortions are far more likely to wind up below the poverty line, unemployed and dependent on public assistance. They were more prone to staying with their partner, but also more likely to have experienced domestic abuse and feel less positive about their relationship. However, having an abortion doesn’t have a negative impact on mental health, and the vast majority of those that do have an abortion feel it was the right decision even after the fact.

People are at liberty to choose whether or not they want an abortion. It’s not my business what you choose to do with your body, nor is it anyone else’s. However, seeking to eliminate that right is an active attack against anyone with a uterus. Consider the death of Savita Halappanavar, the woman in Ireland who died due to being denied an abortion because public policy dictated that the fetus that was killing her was more important than her life. Think on the hundreds of thousands of other women across the globe who have suffered and continue to die under similar circumstances or by seeking unsafe ’back alley’ abortions when they don’t have adequate and unfettered access to the health care they need. To those who call themselves pro-life, I implore you to look in the eyes of someone who could potentially want an abortion at some point in their life and tell them you want them to significantly harm their own chances at living a prosperous, happy and healthy life for the sake of a microscopic group of cells.

Neither Romney nor Obama Get My Vote

As excited as I am about voting in my first presidential election, I am increasingly jaded with both the Republican and Democratic candidates for President. As a woman, LGBTQ ally and someone who managed to pass a high school economics class, backing the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket is not a sensible option. However I cannot, in good conscience, vote to re-elect President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

President Obama’s administration has done things I wholeheartedly support. He increased access to birth control, promoted equality by repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and proposed legislation to further better the economy, had it not been blocked by Republicans in the House of Representatives. Despite this record, I am deeply disturbed at the Obama Administration’s attack on civil liberties and violations of human rights across the globe.

In the past four years, President Obama has signed the National Defense Authorization Act, allowing him to indefinitely detain any U.S. citizen without trial or charge. He has also killed thousands of innocent men, women and children in drone strikes across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

He has also increased internet censorship, seizing over 750 domains in the past two years alone. In addition, President Obama has granted immunity to all government officials involved in torturing detainees. I cannot bring myself to vote for a candidate that blatantly disregards the welfare, dignity and basic rights of my fellow human beings.

For these reasons, I’ve decided to venture outside of the two-party system and cast my vote for Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein and vice presidential nominee Cheri Honkala.

My views about domestic and foreign policy, the economy, and the environment are closely aligned with their platforms and I am voting for them despite the fact that their chances of winning the presidency is someplace between zero and nil. I want to have my voice heard through my vote. If that means choosing outside of the “feasible” options, I will take full advantage of my liberty to do so.

Some would argue my vote is wasted by not choosing a Democratic or Republican candidate. However, it’s evident that the two-party system has ultimately harmed the United States. Partisan loyalty and acting as though the two parties’ aims are mutually exclusive has caused deep divides among the American people and inhibited progress on all fronts.

No matter how you look at it, the bottom line is that the education system is in shambles, the environment is rotting around us, we’re hurting a lot of innocent people around the globe and the prospect of finding a job, especially as a young graduate, remains grim at best.

The point of electing leaders and having a government is to benefit the people rather than harm them and, for me, advocating for a candidate who fits neither Republican or Democratic narrative is a way to realize that goal and pressure complacent elected officials to seek solutions outside their partisan circle.