Henry Fertik, 23, lived on a typical tree-lined street of brownstones in Park Slope. He also worked in the neighborhood. According to court records, he picked up prescription drugs from Pinchas Goldshtein, 26, who lived in the neighborhood, on Carroll Street, and then peddled them on 8th Street. He even intended to sell them, law-enforcement officials allege, on his own block.
Arrested last year, Goldshtein and four other dealers are awaiting pre-trial hearings over the next two months on charges including conspiracy to sell controlled substances. Fertik has pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell drugs, said a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, and has a sentencing hearing on September 15.
Fertik and Goldshtein are not the only ones in the neighborhood who have been accused of illegally selling Adderall. Court records show that in October 2010, Michael Hosny Gabriel, a resident anesthesiologist at New York Methodist Hospital on 7th Avenue in Park Slope, was arrested for distributing Adderall. He hid pills in his 5th Street apartment and in his Audi, according to an affidavit. He wrote Adderall prescriptions for other medical residents and fake patients to fill and return to him. He then passed the pills on to dealers. Gabriel often took his extra cash, which far exceeded the annual pay of a medical resident, and gambled in Atlantic City. Gabriel has since pleaded guilty for conspiring to distribute Adderall illegally and is awaiting sentencing.
The abuse of Adderall by teenagers and young students in the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Park Slope is not an isolated phenomenon, but part of a national trend. In the past few years, a number of reports have revealed adolescents’ nonmedical use of Adderall to perform well in high-pressure situations such as college entrance exams. Experts are speaking out about the phenomenon that is particularly affecting the upper class.
As District Attorney Charles Hynes said in a formal statement about the customers for Fertik and Goldshtein, “These young people are abusing pharmaceuticals not simply to get high but often to improve their performance at work and at school.”
Medical doctors prescribe Adderall to treat attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adults. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources website states that children who suffer from ADD and ADHD experience difficulty in focusing and completing tasks with the same ease as their peers. Often, afflicted children find it hard to follow instructions and to do homework. For teenagers, the situation is sometimes more stressful, because they have an increased pressure to perform, yet they are expected to be more self-reliant than younger children. A prescription stimulant such as Adderall can address these issues and in turn improve a person’s “self-esteem, cognition, and social and family interactions of the patients,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources website. Although it may be counter-intuitive that a stimulant would help a person focus, in fact Adderall helps calm and channel one’s thoughts.
Besides its therapeutic use, Adderall has gained popularity on the street among young professionals, students, and teenagers. One of its nicknames is “the smart drug,” because people take it as a way to help them to perform well at work and school. “Adderall is a nervous system stimulant,” said Helen Sackler, a clinical psychologist at Yale University, “People take it who are going after ‘I’m feeling so engaged and I can focus.’”
Experts also say Adderall is popular among teens and students because it helps them remain alert. Professor Jill Sailors at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy said, “It helps them to stay awake if they are pulling all-nighters to stay ahead of the game.”
On College Confidential, a website devoted to helping high school students find the right college and do well on entrance exams, a student asked whether taking Adderall would improve her SAT scores. Another student responded, “1) it’s illegal, 2) it’s often done, 3) it’s been shown to boost scores.” On April 25, 2010, 60 Minutes aired a segment about college students who confessed to using Adderall illegally to perform well on exams. A student user said, “When you are in a class knowing that at least half of the class is using Adderall, then not doing it puts yourself at a disadvantage.”
According to David Rosenbloom, a professor of public health at Boston University, prescription drugs are more common among members of the upper classes because they can afford to buy them.
A month’s supply can be purchased for a co-pay of between $10 and $50, said Sailors. On the underground market, she said, online forums and blogs usually price Adderall at $5-$15 per pill, and “the prices are inflated around final exam week in college.”
Middle-to-upper-class parents, said Sailors, are also more aware than less affluent ones of attention deficit disorder and so are more likely to take their children to a doctor for a diagnosis. From there, some children are prescribed Adderall, then misuse it, or pass it on to their friends.
It is perhaps not surprising that Adderall has caught on in Park Slope, which is a predominantly upper-middle class neighborhood. Many residents are professionals who commute to high-powered jobs on Wall Street or Midtown Manhattan. Not coincidentally, it is also a neighborhood of parents deeply invested in their children’s success. News sources from the Village Voice to the satirical blogs Brooklyn Breeder and F—– in Park Slope often accuse Park Slope parents for “helicopter parenting,” an obsessive way of managing their children’s lives. Many Park Slope parents subscribe to the Park Slope Parents listserv, where they can get recommendations for tutors, the best schools, and ADD and ADHD therapists.
The presence of the prescription drug rings in the neighborhood does not surprise district manager, Craig Hammerman. “To think that Park Slope is exempt from what’s happening in the rest of the world,” he said, “is putting your head in the sand.”
“Parents want to attribute their children’s distraction too soon to ADHD,” said Martina de Giorgis, a psychotherapist in New York City. Although she has seen Adderall help many of her teenage patients who use it for medical reasons, she has also seen a darker side. “In middle-to-upper school kids,” she said about patients who show some symptoms of ADHD, “you see parents put pressure on them to perform well in school and so encourage them to go on Adderall.” She has observed this in families where the child is as young as 12 years old. She said, “I’m sure in Park Slope there’s these families.”
“For many middle and upper-middle class young people in New York,” Professor Lala Straussner, an expert in addiction at New York University, wrote in an email, “Adderall is much more acceptable than using methamphetamine (more common on West Coast) or crack cocaine, although the brain doesn’t know the difference.” A research update released in May 2011 by the National Institute of Drug Abuse stated that, excluding alcohol and tobacco, adolescents abuse prescription medicines more than any other substances.
According to a 2007 report issued by the White House, “Teens and Prescription Drugs,” most children between 12-17 years old say it is easier to find prescription drugs than illegal drugs. “Typically teens acquire the pills either through a friend or purchase from someone selling the pills,” said Sailors about Adderall.
Another reason that adolescents turn to prescription drugs is that they are perceived to be more safe than illegal drugs. The White House report stated that four out of ten youths believe they are safer. “They are under the misconception that prescription medications are safer than street drugs,” said Sailors, “and think that it won’t matter if they use/abuse them illegally.”
However, Adderall is as unsafe as illegal drugs. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration categorizes Adderall as a Schedule II drug, which is in the same category as cocaine, another stimulant, because it has a “high potential for abuse.” Adderall increases dopamine levels in the brain, which produces euphoria. Medical doctors are careful to augment the dosage slowly so as to avoid creating the powerful euphoric states that often lead to addiction. But when Adderall is used without a doctor’s guidance, the risk for addiction goes up.
As a nervous system stimulant, it can also be dangerous for some individuals who take the recommended dose. In 2005, the Canadian government briefly suspended the sale of Adderall, because there were reports of 20 sudden deaths worldwide by individuals who were taking recommended dosages. Fourteen of those who died were under the age of 21. Adderall returned to the shelves in Canada once it was clear that those with cardiac issues should be advised against using the medication. Experts say that Adderall can also have other serious effects. “I’ve seen anything from total failure at school and social performances to disorientation,” said de Giorgis.
Sailors recently initiated a seminar for incoming pharmacy students to enlighten them about what she sees as a widespread epidemic of prescription drug abuse. She named her seminar “Generation Rx.”