The prescription substance is capitalism's ultimate pill, dulling your personality levels and optimizing your productivity.
New Yorkers, it’s fair to say, have something of a reputation. They’re brusque and they’re brash and they will trample you with their ambition. But it’s not something in the water that makes them like this; it’s something a lot of them are swallowing with expensive bottles of Smartwater. It’s Adderall.
Adderall is the brand name for a cocktail of amphetamines packaged up by big pharma for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This being a disorder that presents with extraordinary frequency in the US, particularly amongst the offspring of pushy parents. Type A-sorts intent on their kids getting straights As, even if it means putting them on Class As. Because, here’s the thing: Adderall is basically legalised speed. And here’s the other thing: Adderall works. Or rather, it makes you work. It makes you alert and focused and able to concentrate for hours on end.
Adderall works so well, in fact, that some doctors are advocating its use in schools, whether the kids have ADHD or not. This week the New York Times published an article about a Dr Michael Anderson, who prescribes Adderall to low-income schoolchildren struggling with their studies. Dr Anderson doesn’t even believe ADHD is a legitimate illness, but he does believe that taking Adderall can help disadvantaged children compete with their more privileged peers. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment,” he explains. “So we have to modify the kid.”
There has been some justifiable outrage about Dr Anderson’s standpoint. After all, doling out hardcore drugs to kids who aren’t even legally able to buy a beer is deeply weird. But then again, so is America’s attitude to drugs. This is a country that has spent 40 years and $1 trillion warring against drugs – or, rather, the “wrong” sort of drugs. This is a country that shuts its borders to anyone who has been convicted of taking a Class C drug. And yet this is a country that not only tolerates certain Class A-type drugs, it actively embraces them.
Dr Anderson’s unusual frankness has brought into relief what is an open secret about Adderall: it is widely and unashamedly used by large swaths of privileged America so they can work harder, faster, and longer. And I’m not just talking about college kids. While discussions of Adderall in the media focus overwhelmingly on its use in educational institutes, what you hear less about is the number of professionals who use it so they can put more hours in at the office. Indeed, demand for the magic pills is so rampant in New York that when the great Adderall drought of 2011 struck the city it triggered a thoroughly Gotham-ic panic. Normally stoic New Yorkers wept at pharmacist counters and The New York Observer set up a special Adderall Wire to keep tabs on where readers should try scoring. The Observer, let me stress, is not a fringe publication. It printed Candace Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” column and targets a “sophisticated readership of influential young urban professionals”. Not drug addicts, mind, but influential young urban professionals.
One of the reasons America’s well-paid classes are so in love with Adderall is that it is pathetically easy to get hold of. There is a reason they call a prescription a ‘script over here: find an accommodating doctor and you simply have to say the right words in the right order to get whatever you want. I’ve dabbled with Adderall before because of a banker-friend of mine who knew one such doctor. My friend worked at UBS from 5am to 7pm and went out in Manhattan from 11pm to 4am. When you’re tired of London you may be tired of life, but when you’re tired of New York you simply don’t have enough Adderall. And this friend made sure she had enough.
Adderall, you see, is capitalism’s wonder-pill. It optimises your productivity levels, it dulls your personality levels, and it turns you into the closest human approximation there is to a machine. And that’s why, despite the fact that it’s basically speed, despite the fact that it’s ridiculously addictive, despite the fact that it can re-wire your brain and ruin your life, much of corporate America is A-OK with it.