Amphetamine Black Market Feeds College Students’ Need for Speed
Finals Week Frenzy
It’s the Saturday before Finals Week in Tallahassee …
Four young men are working on laptops in the large living room of a house near FSU’s campus. Three are 22-year-old students, the other a 24-year-old freelance writer — me — hired to edit term papers for the students. They’re working diligently — reading and writing and editing and re-writing, cramming, amidst a galaxy of disarray. Garbage, plastic wrappers and empty fast food bags and pizza boxes are everywhere; price tags, receipts and cellophane are strewn about; empty beer bottles sit on every flat surface, including the floor — there’s no room on the coffee table — and, of course, dishes and bowls and pots and pans, and a 20-inch-long glass bong on a table in the corner. It’s a scene likely similar to many Tallahassee living rooms at this time of year, except for one thing — this is a drug house. All weekend long, students trickled in and out, gearing up for sleepless nights … each arriving with cash and leaving with a pocketful of amphetamines … fuel for Finals Week.
Buyers cycled through all afternoon, starting with a short-haired, athletic-looking white kid in sneakers who showed up around 11 a.m. He was 19, maybe 20 years old; came in smiling and casually asking, “What-up?” as if the visit required no formality or tact. He glanced around the large living room, nodding and smiling more “What-ups” at everyone, before politely calling across the room to ask another short-haired, athletic-looking white kid in sneakers, “Hey, is it cool if I get like … seven?”
The second kid replied, “Yeah, man; no problem,” and reached for his backpack. After struggling with the zipper, he tore the backpack open and removed an orange plastic pharmacy bottle. Dumping a pile of orange pills onto the desk before him, he began separating out seven of them — one by one — and buyer asked:
“So that’s … $35, right?”
“No … $30,” the other replied, “I do five for $20.”
The Need for Speed
Upon inspecting the label on the drug dealer’s orange bottle, one learns the orange pills inside are amphetamine salts — generic for the brand Adderall — a drug doctors prescribe to treat ADHD. A handful of different stimulant medications are used to treat the disorder, all of which do pretty much the same thing: they raise dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, stimulating the central nervous system in a manner that helps the patient to focus. Very powerful drugs, stimulants can be extremely harmful if not taken under the guidance of a health care professional.
According to Brad Schmidt of the FSU Psychology Clinic, Adderall and stimulants like it are addictive. “When these drugs are not used appropriately, misuse could lead to a wide array of psychological and health problems, especially for those at increased risk for drug abuse,” he said. “These include problems with sleep and appetite, as well as problems with blood pressure and heart rate. There is also some risk for serious complications, such as stroke.”
The Drug Enforcement Agency classifies these medications as Schedule II stimulants, and according to the DEA’s website, Schedule II drugs carry a high potential for abuse that may lead to severe dependence. The website gives a few examples of Schedule II stimulants: Adderall (amphetamine), Ritalin (methylphenidate) and Desoxyn (methamphetamine). Baby Boomers might remember the drug by a different name: speed.
A handful of speed will get a stressed-out student through Finals Week, which for many is not really an actual school week, but more like two hellish 48-hour days, with a big time crash somewhere in the middle — or whenever one can find the time.
During Finals Week, a student will typically purchase one pill for each exam, paper or project on his or her schedule. Break a pill in half, and you’ve got a piece to study on and a piece to take before the test. The effects of amphetamines last four to six hours; dosage is based on tolerance, so regardless of whether the pills on hand are 10, 20 or 30 milligrams, an infrequent user with a low tolerance will be satisfied. Naturally, a higher dose will have stronger and potentially longer effects.
On college campuses in America, it is common knowledge that amphetamines will increase a student’s ability to focus; even giving one a heightened level of enthusiasm for coursework, and the stamina to get through it.
Stretched thin with academic responsibilities and more social obligations than ever before, today’s stressed-out college students are reaching past caffeine with a new kind of voracity. Some students seek help and guidance through proper medical channels, but many turn to the black market, often because preliminary evaluations conducted to diagnose a person as ADHD are expensive and time consuming. And, even if one puts in the money and time, there is no guarantee he or she will be leaving the doctor’s office with a prescription for stimulants.
The FSU Psychology Clinic charges $425 to test a student for ADD/ADHD. Assistant Director of the clinic, Jennifer Hames, said to be tested for ADHD, an individual must call the clinic to schedule a one-hour screening appointment and complete a series of questionnaires about their current symptoms. “The screening interview will help determine whether the individual is an appropriate match to be tested at our clinic,” she explained. After screening, the individual must return to the clinic to complete a personality inventory and then will be assigned to an individual therapist, who will conduct the ADHD evaluation.
Students are often disinclined to pursue that route — regardless of whether they are simply wanting to get a prescription for speed or actually experiencing symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Only about five to 10 students are tested each semester at FSU’s clinic — numbers far less than the amount of students on our drug dealer’s list of clients. The end result? On the American college campus, every student with access to stimulant medications is a potential drug dealer.
Of course, these kids aren’t drug dealers in the traditional sense. They aren’t selling street drugs, and there is no gang affiliation; nor are we seeing drive-by shootings or turf wars. Additionally, it can be presumed that, if not prescribed speed, these kids would otherwise avoid illicit business dealings. However, technically and literally — they are drug dealers.
One pill for $5, five pills for $20, 10 for $40, etc. Might sound like a fair deal, but it is actually in the same neighborhood as highway robbery given the fact that a bottle of 60 pills costs Joe College $10 with his family’s medical insurance plan. Selling three pills puts him in the black, and the sale of a whole bottle at his usual rate could pay half of one month’s rent. But of course it wouldn’t, because Joe College’s mom and dad pay the rent.
It is, however, a very good deal for Saturday’s first customer; who after securing his seven amphetamine pills in an empty cigarette box, declared, “Man, I’m glad you answered — my other guy charges $10 apiece.”
Do the math. If a college kid pays $10 for one pill, the dealer covered his cost. Selling the rest is pure profit. At that rate, one bottle could pay the rent and the utilities.
This drastic difference in price results from the lack of a “going rate” in the college amphetamine black market, and there is no going rate because there is no supplier — no infrastructure. The supplier is the dealer, who is free to set any price he or she chooses, because supplies are always limited and stock is inconsistent. When the bottle runs out, Joe College is out of business until the next month’s refill. Doctor shopping doesn’t happen here, because Joe College doesn’t rely on his ill-begotten profits to live — it is all extra money, spent on keeping up with those demanding collegiate social expectations.
In terms of price setting, dealers of street drugs like marijuana and heroin operate on a much more ethical level than these pill-peddling millenials. That’s because, just like any business, the illegal drug trade involves a chain of capitalism: investors, manufacturers, buyers and dealers, all of whom respond to fluctuating markets. Compared to the college amphetamine black market, the cutthroat illegal drug trade actually seems … almost … fair. But none of this matters to the non-prescribed, full-course-load American college student, who is eternally swamped; and it especially doesn’t matter on the Saturday before Finals Week.
Doing the Deal
Forty-five minutes after the first customer, there was another knock at the door, and two bubbly blonde sophomore girls walked in swearing to God that they were about to die. They addressed all the room’s inhabitants, complaining about midnight deadlines and tests and exclaiming, “Thank God for Adderall!”
Five pills each, 40 bucks. The kid at the desk repeated his orange bottle/orange pill pile routine, and the girls were off to the library to begin a heavy cram.
By one o’ clock I’d finished editing the first paper and was explaining my suggestions when another customer came through with more “What-ups?” and bellyaching. After buying 10 pills he pulled a joint from a cigarette pack and lit it. This was accepted with enthusiasm, so much in fact that, as a gesture of appreciation, the drug dealer at the desk pulled another orange pill from his orange bottle and gave it to him “on the house.”
Later, the drug-dealing student broke one of his orange pills in half and gave the pieces to his roommates, 15 milligrams each. One crushed his up and snorted it in lines like cocaine, because “that makes it kick in faster.”
“But, won’t that mess up your nose?” I asked. He replied, “No, I don’t think so — it doesn’t burn the way Xanax does,” and chuckled while getting situated with his laptop. The other swallowed his with a sip of beer, and the Finals Week grind was back on.
Two whole hours passed without anything unusual happening but then came a KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK, KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK, the way police bang on the door on “COPS.” Everyone looked up worried. The drug dealer held up a silencing finger, moved to the window and peered through the blinds.
“Jesus … ” he sighed and explained who it was. He opened the door and went back to his desk while telling the new customer, “I told you not to knock like that, it freaks me out.”
“Sorry,” the customer offered, “that’s how I knock … ”
Apparently, he too is not usually present during drug deals; otherwise, he would have knocked correctly. Students like him only turn to speed during times of elevated stress — like midterms and Finals Week — apparently getting by just fine without drugs during the other 113 days of the semester. En route to the drug house, these types of customers undoubtedly pass a handful of convenience stores that are stocked to the roof with caffeine and B-vitamins, yet pass them up in favor of stimulants because they are the “go-to.” Speed has become that socially acceptable.
Betty and Camille
Of course, readily available caffeine still maintains a solid presence on the American college campus. Students don’t need to know someone, or know someone who knows someone with a prescription to get a triple-shot latte. However, if that were the case, one imagines that Coca-Cola would have to reintroduce cocaine as an ingredient to stay relevant because, according to two sorority girls who were kind enough to chat with me, the kids prefer speed — almost every student they know, in fact.
The girls, both FSU juniors, asked that I not use their names, so we’ll call them Betty and Camille. Both are in the same sorority, both are very driven, personable and likeable. And they, too, are on speed. I introduced myself to the pair at Atomic Coffee, a pleasant off campus café where I’d gone to retreat after feeling clutter-induced claustrophobia, after yet another “customer” sat down next to me on the couch and casually prepared and snorted a line of just-purchased speed.
I was nursing an “Atomic Latte” when Betty and Camille came in chattering. The girls yakked through the line and also during the production of their smoothies. Once they’d settled into a table near mine, I could hear the pair rattling on about Finals Week. I tried hard to tune them out, but it proved impossible — they were simply too loud and spastic. Out of sheer boredom, I listened to Betty and Camille chatter on and on … and on about this test and that test; the papers they’d yet to write; why Betty wouldn’t be able to go out Tuesday night like she usually does; their plans for break; and how stressed, sleepless and “haven’t eaten since yesterday but I’m still not hungry” they both were.
Betty is prescribed stimulants and Camille is not, but Betty takes her medication with only a slightly higher frequency than the kid with the heavy knock. With plenty to spare, Betty is more than happy to share her speed with Camille. This is fortunate for Camille, whose doctor recently put her through “this grueling evaluation” before diagnosing her as ADHD, and sent her away with a prescription for … more tests. Betty, on the other hand, got herself prescribed to avoid the hassle and risk of obtaining speed illegally, an inconvenience she’d endured during her first year at Florida State. Betty’s experience at the doctor’s office was very different from Camille’s.
“It was really easy,” Betty told me, “I just went to my doctor and told her I have trouble focusing — which is true — and she said, ‘Well, you must be ADHD,’ and gave me a prescription for Adderall.”
For many Americans, it really is that easy. Betty said the medication really helps her. So why doesn’t she take it every day?
“Because I don’t want to become dependent on it,” she explained.
“But wouldn’t you do better in general if you took it every day?”
“I do OK.”
Not Just in College
Go ahead and type “Adderall abuse” or “amphetamines” into Google, and get ready to read about some weirdness. ABC News ran a story last June about adult women who abuse the drug, reporting “a 750 percent increase in Adderall prescriptions for women between 26 and 39,” and featured a story about a suburban mother who started using her kid’s Adderall to stay on top of things, and wound up smoking crystal meth “in the bedroom with the door locked; all day, all night — every day.”
What this all boils down to, this dystopian phenomenon that is turning students and housewives into criminals and cretins, is the force that every American lives in pursuit of: the all powerful Edge — the ability to get there first, to work with superior diligence, productivity and composure, to lead the way.
The commitment and drive demonstrated by the drug-addled college students would have made me queasy with Edge-inferiority … had I not been in possession of an orange plastic pharmacy bottle displaying a sticker bearing my own name, and a prescription for my personal piece of the Edge — Adderall, 30 milligram XR.
According to my doctor, I am ADHD — but maybe I’m not; perhaps I’m just lazy. After all, I did earn a bachelor’s degree before being diagnosed and prescribed. Either way, when I sat down to write this story, I reached into my brown leather duffel — like I always do — and pulled out my orange plastic pharmacy bottle, removed an orange capsule and knocked it back with a shot of coconut water.