The New Yorker Almost Gets It Right On Ritalin and Adderall
It took 30 milligrams of (legally prescribed) Ritalin for me to get through Margaret Talbot’s 10-page New Yorker piece about the so-called “underground world of ‘neuroenhancing’ drugs.” Though it was just brought to my attention this morning, I felt compelled to examine and respond to her tome in a timely manner; when there’s a slight chance that my drugs of choice are coming under fire, I tend to reflexively rebut.
First of all, articles regarding stimulant over-prescription and black market abuse are more played out than features about on line dating. Such endeavors - which generally hang on one or several select scientific studies - all essentially arrive at the same non-conclusion: everyone operates better on these meds, but, since this is a guilt-driven society, some folks are weary about mass medication.
As a long-prescribed insider, it’s inevitable that I take issue with such undertakings; no matter how many sources Talbot consulted, she could never truly understand “underground” stimulant culture. If she did, then she would have known that the quantities consumed by her subjects are laughably prude; these articles often remind me of when school counselors describe “binge drinking” as anything more than four beers a night; and half of the audience is thinking: “Huh - I had six Budweisers for breakfast yesterday.”
Talbot’s approach is annoying at best and irresponsible at worst. Since it’s written under the “Reporter at Large” guise, she sporadically inserts opinions: most aggressively, expressing fear for “a society where we’re even more overworked and driven by technology than we already are, and where we have to take drugs to keep up; a society where we give children academic steroids along with their daily vitamins.” I would expect more than taxi driver logic from a New Yorker writer; either that or Talbot should have put her own nose to the grindstone before making vast, generic conclusions.
As a substitution for her not really being “at large,” Talbot relies on chat rooms and forums (some of which have been referenced before), as well as on a fancy selection of neuroenhancement experimenters. There’s the spoiled millionaire dotcom chump who chewed Provigil to help his poker game; the anxious Adderall-addled academic who you wouldn’t want to face in Jeopardy; and, of course, the former Harvard student who, apparently, “looks like the lead singer in an indie band.” Listen closely enough and you can hear Talbot’s editor asking her to find subjects who scream: “Look, America - even this guy uses this stuff.”
An underlying theme in Talbot’s article - as well as in most written on the subject - is that neuroenhancing drugs are guilty until proven innocent. She notes several times that the long-term effects are unknown (I’m not sure why that’s still the case considering how long some of these meds have been on the market), and stresses that popping pills is not enough to get ahead in life, school, and business. I’m not sure about the chemical explanation behind this phenomenon, but there’s something about writing articles concerning Ritalin that makes authors get extremely preachy.
One legitimately interesting chunk of Talbot’s piece addresses new drugs that are being designed to prevent my grandmother from accidentally calling me the name of all my other cousins before retrieving the word “Chris.” Neuroenhancers are all the rage, and for good reason. Despite her reluctance to straightforwardly suggest that Ritalin be made available next to Chap Stick in the check-out line, Talbot does - more than any other respected pedestrian observer ever has (that I’m aware of) - concede that we’d all be better off prescribed. Beyond that - in terms of the extent to which she dares to understand first-hand what these drugs are capable of - this exercise was the journalistic equivalent to Christmas movies that end with the possibility that Santa Claus might actually exist. Talbot knows damn well what the answer is, but for some corny stubborn reason she’s not willing to step out into the snow and face reality.