Michael makes a living by pushing tiny blue pills – but he isn’t a doctor. At the age of 20, Michael is a UC Davis sophomore who sells Adderall, an amphetamine formulation prescribed for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), to other college students.
“Over the course of the quarter, I average around $200 a week, mostly from students taking midterms or writing papers,” Michael said, sliding a dozen or so pills across his desk and into a Ziploc bag. “But once finals week rolls around, I’m usually pulling in around $1,200 the last two weeks of the quarter.”
The growing demand for Adderall on college campuses has created a black-market for the drug, and as students continue to depend on it for scholastic success, the academic culture of universities has begun to shift in a new direction.
More and more, students are turning to Adderall to help solve their time management problems, said Aegis Medical Sacramento representative Karly Armbrecht, who deals specifically with substance abuse services.
“It seems that students are relying on the drug to stay focused and alert when they study, and many others are abusing it to stay up all night to cram before a test,” she said.
In the midst of this growing phenomenon, Michael has seized the opportunity to create a very lucrative business, supplying Adderall to non-prescribed college students.
A day in the life of a dealer
9 a.m. – The bell rings for class and Michael walks up the front steps of Wellman Hall to meet Brett, a 19-year-old sophomore, who sits nervously on a white bench set against the brick-clad building.
“I got an in-class essay to write in my next class,” said a swollen-eyed Brett, as he pops a 30 milligram orange pill into his mouth and chases it with the remainder of his Red Bull. “I need all the focus I can get.”
He quickly hands Michael a five-dollar bill and disappears through the door.
12:25 p.m. – Michael pulls into the ARC parking lot and grabs the Ziploc bag filled with tiny blue 20-milligram pills from the glove compartment, leaves the car, and begins approaching a girl casually sipping from a Starbucks coffee cup.
“She’s a regular,” Michael said minutes later as he quickly shuffles four crisp $20 bills into his wallet. “I guess she’s trying to lose some weight before houseboats – you take one of those pills and you won’t want to eat all day.”
The versatility of Adderall is one of the more appealing aspects of the drug. Often called the Las Vegas of pills, Adderall conforms gleefully to every pill cliché to such an extent that even taking it feels cinematic.
This alluring appeal has caused Adderall to be classified as a Schedule II drug because of its high potential for abuse and dependence.
Frank Weiss, a pharmacist at Kaiser Permanente, said that Adderall is a highly addictive drug that causes insomnia, nervousness and tolerance.
“The long-term effects are much more severe,” he said. “After a few years of regular use, patients may suffer from high blood pressure, increased heart rate, phonetic tics and hallucinations.”
With such side effects looming in the not so distant future, some wonder why this drug is even prescribed to individuals in the first place.
“With the correct dosage, ADHD medications such as Adderall and Ritalin can help children control their hyperactivity, inattention and other behaviors – allowing them to experience a more fulfilling life,” Weiss said.
On the fourth floor of the library, Justin, who has been prescribed Adderall since high school, sits at a lone desk facing a laptop. His feet consistently tap against the leg of the table like the tick of a grandfather clock, while his teeth grind back and forth.
“When I’m on Adderall the rest of the world disappears from me,” said Justin, as his feet continue their monotonous tap. “I’m only focused on my computer screen and what I have to get done. I lose all sense of time and place, so my only downtime is when I have to go to the bathroom.”
The university, however, has shown strong disapproval from this type of academic culture. While other departments face severe budget cuts, UC Davis continues to allocate resources to the Student Academic Success Center (SASC), a program that offers free classes on time management, critical reading strategies and annotating skills to all UC Davis students.
Nonetheless, many students continue to depend on the drug for academic success – a fact that Michael knows all too well by the end of each day.
“These days, people are always looking for something that will give them that extra advantage over the next guy,” Michael said, as he takes out a roll of cash that would choke a horse to death. “Whether it’s an iPad, a study guide from SparkNotes or an energy drink – it’s all the same. I’m in the same business as those other guys.”
EHSUN FORGHANY can be reached at email@example.com.