In a city of weight-obsessed work-aholics, it comes as little surprise that the amphetamine Adderall has become the new drug of choice. The blue pill has replaced Ritalin as the go-to upper for the under-30 crowd, who are faking attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to nab prescriptions, or buying pills from friends who’ve had it legitimately prescribed. The rampant pill popping is prompting longer, more efficient workdays, with the side effect—some say bonus—of weight loss, since Adderall is essentially fancy speed.
But the drug’s sudden popularity has doctors concerned. “It can make you paranoid and crazy,” Ivan K. Goldberg, a Manhattan psychopharmacologist, says of improper usage, adding that addiction, rapid heartbeat, and insomnia are other side effects. “It is a dangerous thing.” Some doctors worry that their colleagues are prescribing it too readily to New Yorkers who are hopping on what one 25-year-old banker calls “the A train.” U.K.-based Shire Pharmaceuticals, which makes Adderall—a blend of amphetamine salts—to treat ADHD in children and adults, posted an 18 percent rise in profits, to $74.6 million, in the first three months of this year compared with 2003. And Joel Eichel of Bigelow Pharmacy confirms that Adderall sales are swift. Generic versions are also popular.
If Ritalin is like coffee, says a 28-year-old law-school graduate, then Adderall is like cocaine: “Once you’re accustomed to the real amphetamine in Adderall, you can’t really enjoy Ritalin anymore.” But it’s also designed to be gentler than Ritalin. According to Adam Stewart, 23, who’s had a prescription for about two years after taking Ritalin for almost a decade, “Adderall is a more gradual up-and-down. It doesn’t slam you down like Ritalin.” He claims it’s helping his career, too: The first word on his most recent work evaluation was industriousness.
But other users have noticed Adderall’s hazards and curbed their habits. One event planner, though thrilled with Adderall’s slimming effects (she lost ten pounds while popping it daily), became unable to sleep at night (even with Ambien) and quit. “It was making me too anxious,” she says. Now she fills her prescription on friends’ behalf, sometimes selling pills for market price. “I’m not trying to be a drug dealer,” she insists. “I’m just helping out a bit.”