Double Standards in Tweaker Nation
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Double Standards in Tweaker Nation


Along with a leading role in the decade’s most lauded TV show, methamphetamine has starred in a gross-out prevention campaign so epic it’s become immortalized in meme. Even some of the biggest cokeheads I know scoff at meth-heads, the blatant classism of which is just about as nasty as those scabby sores that crop up all over tweakers’ faces. Yet many of these stimulant snobs cut their still-functional teeth on pills copped from their friends with ADD. Those pills are none other than amphetamines.

Hypocrisy at Its Finest

In Vice’s Motherboard this week, Alexander Zaitchik chronicles the history of our love affair with speed and how drug manufacturers have pulled the wool over our eyes time and time again. He marvels at the disconnect between our culture’s polarized perceptions of legal and illegal amphetamines. Smoke meth? You’re trailer trash. Take 90 grams of Adderall per day? Great job—you’ve really owned your learning differences and there’s a chair at Princeton with your name on it.

Adderall is speed. Period. It may differ from meth in some ways (key ways if you value your incisors), but chemically it’s one molecule away from landing you in a prison cell next to Jesse Pinkman. The Journal of Neuroscience has admitted they’re pretty much the same, effects-wise. Yet street speed gets branded as a drug for tweaking truckers, while legal speed gets put on kids’ breakfast plates next to their gluten-free toast. Those kids who are put on Adderall and continue taking it into adulthood can suffer severe consequences, especially if they want to quit.

Women and Boys Speed Up

With one in five boys in the US getting diagnosed (or misdiagnosed) with ADHD, amphetamine prescriptions have risen 50% since 2008. But it’s not just boys—women aged 26-34 are the fastest growing market segment with an 85% increase in the last five years. Sales are projected to rise another 25% by 2015. And keep in mind these numbers tally actual prescriptions. I used my fair share of Adderall in my early 20s and I never once talked to a doctor. When you take the black market into account, we’re looking at an epidemic.

This isn’t the nation’s first ride on the tweaker train. Back in the Mad Men era, housewives and working women gobbled up Benzedrine by the bucketful to help keep their spirits up and their waistlines in check. By 1970, 10% of women were dependent on amphetamines. But as more and more people got hooked, the public mood soured and even led to Congressional hearings that slapped a Schedule II designation on America’s favorite fatbuster.

Hopping on the ADHD Train

What happened to that backlash? ADHD happened, that’s what. Big pharma is a resilient beast. Their diet pill bubble had been burst, but if they couldn’t market their drugs to a wide range of purposes, they could focus on the drug’s most legitimate purpose—helping children with attention deficits— to include a wider market. Now suddenly it’s not just that one squirrely kid who has ADHD. Now it’s half the class—and more than a few of their parents.

Dr. Patricia Quinn, a drug pusher undercover as a developmental pediatrician, is one of several “ADD awareness” experts who have built careers on turning people on to their for need speed. Quinn’s main mission is to let girls everywhere know that ADHD isn’t just for boys. Are you a tomboy? A daydreamer? Binging on starchy snacks in your messy room? Don’t worry, you probably have ADHD, and you’re in luck—there’s a pill for that. Personally, I could sit and read for hours in elementary school, but if my parents had read some of this Dr. Quinn stuff they’d probably have thought I had ADHD too. How else could you explain why I was always eating and running around, almost as though those things were normal childhood behaviors?

Just like prescription opioids, legal speed has its uses. But it’s also driving upstanding citizens to addiction every day. Society’s figured out that OxyContin is basically heroin, so why haven’t they put two and two together with Adderall and meth?

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About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.