Attention Deficit Disorder is diagnosed at higher rates in the US than in anywhere else in world. And once it’s diagnosed? It’s treated. Ritalin and Adderall are prescribed, what we used to call by the more generic umbrella name, “amphetamines.”
Parents feeding a hyper-competitive “human capital value” culture that has first them then their kids, eager to get “an edge,” look for more energy, focus and stamina in a pill.
The prescriptions often start in elementary school. By college, the kids using these stimulants call it “college crack.” By adulthood, software engineers and musicians, athletes and soldiers are hooked, making America Amphetamine Nation.
“Take Your Pills” is a new Netflix documentary that downloads data, expert commentary, user-testimony and zippy animations and graphics to make the case that it’s not just the meth and opioids that are have American addled.
College kids, Wall Street types, jocks and Silicon Valley nerds discuss their need for the drug, what they get from it.
And academics, journalists, authors and physicians break down the chemistry and the history. Alan Schwarz (author of “ADHD Nation” and “Overselling ADHD”) relates the history of the drugs — Benzadrine of “Speed” made it into many a soldier and fighter pilot, and it made its way into folks at home, getting comical mentions in movie and Big Band novelty song during World War II — the development of Ritalin, and the timeline of parental and school system push for help with “concentration” that has addicted the nation’s middle to upper middle class kids and adults.
Among those testifying, Eben Britton, an ex-NFL offensive lineman, and his wife Brit — the push to get him a league exception to use it, his wife’s testimony about how it impacted him, from “focus” to the downside.
“Obsessiveness” is one of those drawbacks.
“Blue,” an artist manager in the music business, notes that “Society as a whole, has ADD.” Distracted at every turn, in every minute of the waking day, pills become the easier way to shut down those distractions. His special ed teacher mom Maxine derides the “instant cure” her son sought out once he was old enough to make that decision for himself.
Companies have been able to advertise the drugs on TV, marketing “better grades” and “more compliant” kids as the drugs’ benefits. A popular New Orleans “TV doctor” is shown interacting with kids, and a parent who has a Master’s notes how determined she is that her son, “who had to repeat kindergarten,” get a doctorate.
Other parents confess, “Did I do research? Painfully, no.”
The risks dribble out later — addiction, irregular heartbeats, compulsive behavior, “perfect employees” working themselves until they get sick, have a seizure or collapse.
Psychotherapist Liz Jorgensen declares that “stimulants can help, until they don’t.”
Footballer Britton expresses regrets at “cheating” his way to his achievements, and remembers the “crash,” the depression and exhaustion that followed every hyper-focused “high.”
“Take Your Pills” is a fast-read doc, a surface-skimming of the subject, with most corners of the philosophical, medical and ethical debate over these re-branded uppers at least touched on. People hunting for a way to become “the optimal me” dominate the proceedings, parents, kids, athletes and others rationalize what they’re doing.
“Cognitive enhancement is here to stay,” one marketer/seller announces, and the experts quoted here take a moment to talk about the Brave New World of LSD microdoses, mushroom self-dosing and the murkier self-determination arguments that might be guiding the debate down the road.
It’s pretty late in the game to be getting a primer on this years-long epidemic, but the least you can say about this super-slick, ADHD friendly film is that you can’t watch it and say you don’t have an idea how it could benefit you or your kid, and just a taste of exactly why it’s a bad idea.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with drug abuse
Cast: Dr. Wendy Brown, Dr. Anjan Chatterjee, Alan Schwarz, Eben Britton, Dr. Nicolas Rasmussen, many others
Credits:Directed by Alison Klayman. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:27