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ADHD Drugs Are As Dangerous As Street Meth - And Americans Are Getting Hooked

By 5-HT2A, Jun 25, 2015 | | |
  1. 5-HT2A

    Photograph: PHOTOTAKE Inc. / Alamy/Alamy

    In 2014, the adult market for pharmaceutical stimulants in the US overtook the long-reigning children’s market. Thanks to the eagerness of many doctors to prescribe so-called ADHD drugs, every high school in the country is sloshing with enough amphetamine to keep five Panzer divisions awake during an extended Africa campaign. But now, for the first time, you are more likely to find drugs like Vyvanse and Adderall in a corporate office park than a classroom.

    There is something unsettling about this continuing growth in prescription stimulants. Even though the pills are as strong as street meth – which in any case metabolizes quickly into dextroamphetamine, the main active ingredient in most ADHD drugs – nobody seems to call this class of drugs by its name: “speed.”

    For those who have experienced the dark-side of regular amphetamine use, it has been a curious and concerning thing to see speed developed into a boom market extending well beyond narcoleptics and those suffering acute ADHD.

    I first used speed while living in Prague during the mid-1990s. The city was awash in “pico”, or Pervitin, the name of the local methamphetamine inherited from the Nazis during World War II. Pico was cheap, strong and easy to get. I used it mostly to hit deadlines, but also as a party drug. The usual cycles always threatened: tolerance; the temptation to fend off deep crashes with another rail; the creeping sense that I couldn’t really be productive or have fun without it. I never got hooked hard, but those speed-fueled years were part roller coaster, part haunted house. I saw a lot of kids go off the deep end. When I returned to the US in the aughts, I saw more kids harmed by Ritalin and Adderall — pills prescribed to them basically for the asking, and which I found to be every bit as powerful, and ultimately dangerous, as bathtub crank.

    During our recent industry-guided speed renaissance, “speed” has been turned into “meds”, reflecting the idea that amphetamine for most people remains some kind of safe treatment or routine performance-booster, rather than a highly addictive drug with some nasty talons in its tail. The full extent of this cultural forgetting hit me several years ago, when I asked an otherwise sophisticated street dealer what kind of speed he was holding. He stared at me in utter incomprehension. When I clarified my request with brand names, he said: “Oh, you mean meds.”

    The trend in adult speed prescriptions has been driven by what Flemming Ornskov, the CEO of the drug-maker Shire, describes as his company’s “shift[ing] more effort into the adult ADHD market.” This “effort” by Shire and other drug companies has taken many forms.

    In the US, it’s involved direct marketing on television using celebrity spokespeople like pop star Adam Levine and tennis great Monica Seles. The industry also sponsors conferences and funds research that encourages more testing, diagnoses and prescriptions. To push these ends, it has recently (re)discovered new adult uses for stimulants. In January, Shire won FDA approval to prescribe its leading patented stimulant, Vyvanse, as a treatment for “binge eating,” suggesting a return to the post-Cold War decades when the “Dexedrine Diet” turned millions of women in the US and Europe into amphetamine addicts.

    Shire has fuelled this oblivion with its aggressive marketing of Vyvanse, a slightly modified d-amphetamine extended-release rocket fuel. The active patented ingredient in its new bestseller is something the company calls “lisdexamfetamine.” Note the “ph” has been replaced with an “f” in a crude but brilliant gambit. The company’s neo-phoneticism is intended to put more distance between its new golden goose and the deep clinical literature on speed addiction, not to mention last century’s disastrous social experiment with widespread daily speed use, encouraged by doctors, to temper appetites and control anxiety.

    Many people signing up for Vyvanse and other new-gen daily regimen speeds are happy to buy into this illusion of distance between past and present, between street dealer and doctor’s pad. Poor people do dirty drugs like “meth” and “speed” and ruin their lives. Middle class strivers do “meds” and succeed while slimming down. But the truth is all speed is addictive. And all speed, even elegantly designed concoctions like Vyvanse, leaves users crashed out and riddled with anxiety and depression that deepens with time. (As those crashes get worse, it’s worth noting, they increase the allure of prescription opiates and benzodiazepines — two other booming drug markets that pharma has done much to cultivate.)

    By all means, let adults buy speed if they want it for working, for partying or for losing weight. But let’s be honest with ourselves. The US is on track to becoming a nation of speed freaks, no matter how we choose to spell it.

    by Alexander Zaitchik

    June 25, 2015



  1. Bajeda
    From what I've heard Vyvanse isn't as powerful as its directly active cousins. This is solely based on anecdotal evidence, as I haven't checked the literature for new research on recreational use of Vyvanse, but it seems people motivated in part by recreational considerations are more apt to pursue scripts for the original amphetamines. That said, there is some evidence - again anecdotally, since there isn't much motivation or funding for conducting research on the old timer stimulants these days - that the older and more powerful drugs are more efficacious treatments for ADHD symptoms with fewer side effects. In this narrative: d-methamphetamine (Desoxyn) > d-amphetamine (Dexedrine) > mixed racemic/dextro-amphetamine salts formulations (Adderall) > pro-drug formulation lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse).

    But Alexander makes some good points. It's interesting that, if you want to try modafinil (provigil) as a potential ADHD treatment or for better regulation of sleep-wake cycles (with sleep disorders highly correlated with memory and attention deficits, and other conditions comorbid with and potentially mistaken for ADHD) most insurance companies won't pay up and you'll have to a bill of up to 50 times higher in order to take it off-label. Why? Because it's ineffective? Well, again anecdotal evidence is primarily what we have to go on but it appears to have some promise for treating aforementioned conditions. But no one wants to pay for the clinical trials that will get the national medical associations (AMA, APA, and condition-specific associations) to put it on their approved lists which insurers use to determine if they will provide coverage or not. And since adrafinil and other successors have already passed without a patented and thus monopolizable iteration of the drug appearing there is no incentive to do so when you can milk vyvanse for everything it's worth until the patent expires on that and by then you hopefully have the next successor you can market to everyone to get them off the generics replacing the previous cash cow. Can see the historical progression of this trend: dextromethamphetaine --> dextroamphetamine --> XR dextroamphetaine --> mixed racemic/dextroamphetamine (adderall) --> XR mixed racemic/dextroamphetamine --> lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse) --> XR lisdexamfetamine --> the future...

    I've definitely seen people benefit immensely from treatment with stimulant drugs for attention disorders. But I've seen at least as many if not more use their prescriptions for the same conditions the exact same as your normal college student trying to get a leg up on studies, or your typical stim-head before graduating to the full-on tweaker stage.

    So much for the bright future of "evidence based care" that's been repeatedly promised over the years. The past decade I've only seen yet more evidence of the overriding supremacy of the profit-motive to the detriment of all other considerations (except perhaps managing malpractice litigation risk) in Big Pharma.
  2. detoxin momma
    i agree.
    taking these prescriptions you may as well be high on meth,just legally.

    i had a doctor ask me if i thought my son should get on one of these drugs to address his hyperness.

    i said,uhhh no.hes 9 hes supposed to be hyper.why would i want to introduce him to something he may get hooked on.
    start him out this young where do you think he'll be by age 15??
    no thanks.

    most the issues kids get prescribed these drugs for could be addressed simply by changing diet.

    like no sugar or caffeine,candy,etc...

    also,exercise could help alot.

    when i notice my son is getting antsy,looking for ways to entertain himself,acting bored.
    i put his ass on the treadmill,lol..

    wears him out and brings him back down to a normal level.

    plus,i do know a handful of kids taking adderall and vyvanse.
    they're all mean in my opinion.

    from what i can tell the side effects are harder on the kids than the symptoms are.
    they need to learn to cope,and control themselves,not dose.
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