Sunday, September 16, 2012

Social Media & Social Change

Social Media & Social Change
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Social media is the perfect tool for mobilizing your friends and colleagues to take action on a cause you care about -- sending a letter to a legislator, signing up to attend a rally, or spreading the word through their own social channels. But -- in a world of high-priced consultants and slickly-produced viral videos -- how can an individual make a difference online?
You can start by keeping three goals in mind. First, you want to use your time online to stay informed and connected to the organizations you care about -- the animal welfare group, the folks taking action on despotic dictators, the people providing malaria nets, and more. Second, you'll want to build your relationship with legislators or key opinion leaders you'll ultimately need to influence. And third, you want to build robust online connections with your friends and other like-minded individuals, so you can leverage their collective power when the right moment comes.
Here are some specific actions you can take. 
With 800 million users, if you're remotely interested in this topic, you probably already have a Facebook page. Now you can use it to help the causes you care about.
• Start by "liking" the fan page of causes you care about. This will keep you informed about their activities and will also show up on your wall, perhaps encouraging your friends to check them out, as well. 
• Next, when your cause posts something of interest -- time to take action on legislation, for instance -- you can re-post it on your own wall by hitting the "share" button. 
• Now "like" the fan page of your legislators, and begin commenting and interacting. (Not surprisingly, they especially like it when you praise them.) You want them to know who you are, so they'll take you more seriously when it comes time to take action. 
• Deploy your "tagging" function. When you tag someone on Facebook, they will (usually) be notified -- and elected officials watch like a hawk. Mention them to build your relationship, and mention your cause to keep your friends informed.
Twitter has a smaller user base, but they're devoted. Your elected official may or may not be on -- but almost all major candidates are (such as for statewide office), and they'll be monitoring it closely. Here's how you can make a difference. 
• As with Facebook, sign up to follow your favorite causes and also your legislators. 
• Frequently retweet (RT) their messages; they can (and do) track these statistics, and will be impressed if you're seen as a player. 
• Build your follower base and show activity. On Twitter, no one is that impressed with a near-dormant account -- you want to demonstrate vitality by having a lot of posts and a lot of followers. You can start by searching for people in your area and/or who are also interested in your cause, and many will follow you back. 
• Deploy your @ symbol. Just as you can tag people in Facebook, you can do the same in Twitter with an @ symbol. This lets people know you're talking about them, so be sure to use it if you're mentioning your electeds or your favorite cause. 


It's old-school by comparison, but still a valuable tool. People generally still pay more attention to personal emails rather than social media, because they're more targeted and viewed as more effort. If you want friends to reach out to legislators, for instance, ask them personally. If you make it clear it's a message to them and not a general e-blast, that will increase your response rate -- they'll view it as granting a personal favor.
Online videos require a pinch more work and technical sophistication than Facebook, Twitter or email -- but not much, since most smartphones now allow you to take beautiful high-definition video, which you can edit with free software like iMovie. The goal isn't to become the next James Cameron, but instead to create something simple yet highly targeted and relevant. Specifically, you can:
• Make a personalized video to share with your legislator. Most people aren't doing this yet, so it will make an impact. You could talk for 30 seconds about why you're urging them to vote a certain way and why it makes a difference to you as a constituent. Just film your snippet, upload it to YouTube, and send them the link. Be sure to put in appropriate keywords, such as the name of your town, the name of your legislator, and the name of the bill you want them to vote on. You can make the link private if you want, but it's even better if it's public. 
• If you're ambitious, you could even become a "video maestro" and have a house party where you invite neighbors to give their testimonials on a certain issue, which you then upload and send to your legislators. Ten or 12 of those and they will be impressed!
Finally, I'm leaving blogs for last because they require the most ongoing commitment -- but are very much worth it if you're willing to invest. Here are some ideas:
• You can reach out to your local weekly, which almost certainly has a blog, and ask to post a special article for them. Depending on your cause, you may even be able to wheedle a regular column, because they're desperate for content. 
• Alternately, you can create your own blog -- either about general topics, or (even more helpfully) about your cause. Just be aware you really need to post at least weekly, and preferably three times a week, to keep it current. 
• When you write a post, be sure to email the link to legislators (especially if you mention them) and to the PR person working for your cause, so they can spread the message further.
Thanks to the wide variety of online communication tools, there are good ways for any individual to get involved and take action on causes they care about. How are you taking action? What ideas do you have to add?

Dorie Clark
 is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the forthcomingReinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.
Follow Dorie Clark on Twitter: 

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

When Pop Culture & Academia Collide

When Pop Culture & Academia Collide

In recent years, there has been a much stronger focus at an academic level when it comes to pop culture. Society now has the ability through television and the internet to not only gawk at the strange things that happen in pop culture but to also interact with it in many ways. Even thePresident of the United States interacts with people online.
This infographic discusses the convergence that’s happening now and will continue to grow as pop culture and our ability to interact with it increases. 
The Obama camp knows social media. They realize that Twitter is big and Facebook is bigger, but Reddit is the place that will generate real voters and get them to the polls in November.
If you’re not familiar with Reddit, you wouldn’t understand. The GOP isn’t familiar with Reddit, so they don’t understand.
The most viral post on Facebook can generate thousands of views, though even well-shared posts have a challenge ever breaking 10,000 referrals to any given piece of content. Every day, posts that hit the front page of Reddit gets hundreds of thousands of referrals. Dozens of posts do that.
Every day.
More importantly, the community on Reddit goes well-beyond friends and family. Twitter does as well but there’s a lot more going out than coming in. Even a heavily-retweeted post has challenges breaking 1000 visitors.
Community is the reason that Reddit is so powerful. Yes, no other site sends traffic to individual  pieces of content than Reddit, but the ability to mobilize and make things happen politically such as the SOPA debacle in the beginning of the year make Reddit a formidable foe or ally, depending on which side of the fence you’re on.
It isn’t that the GOP is completely unaware of Reddit, but they likely feel that Reddit is a place that’s loaded with non-voting college-aged liberals with no chance of getting traction there. This is a huge mistake. Reddit has conservatives. More importantly, Reddit is a voice that respects things that are open and honest more than anything else. An AMA (ask me anything) by Romney would have its share of hecklers but overall as long as the questions were answered properly, it would be a good thing. It would be seen by the independents on the site that are not buying into standard liberal bias on Reddit, the ones who are open minded and willing to listen. 

Pop culture has a reputation of being sneered at by academics, but beyond sneaking a peek at an episode or two of the Bachelor, academia has had a long love affair with pop culture as this infographic by BestCollegesOnline clearly shows. 

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7 Historical Business Figures Who Shunned Higher Ed

We’ve all heard of modern figures like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who famously found success despite dropping out of school, but not a lot has been said about business figures from history that left school behind for a better life. Famed inventors, business magnates, and some of the richest men in the world made their fortunes as college (and even grade school) dropouts. Read on to learn about some of the biggest names in business history who all decided they could do better without school. 

American business magnate Howard Hughes was one of the wealthiest people in the world in his time. As a film producer, influential aviator, and investor, he left his mark on the world, but he didn’t have a whole lot to do with education. Hughes was reported to be an “indifferent student,” and never graduated from high school. He did have a love of mathematics and engineering, auditing a few classes at Caltech. He was also a student at Rice University, thanks to an arrangement by his father, but after his father’s death, he dropped out and subsequently bought out his family to become the sole owner of his father’s tool company, thus launching his career as the businessman we know. Despite limited higher education of his own, Hughes founded the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1953, one of the largest private biological and medical research institutes in the United States, and the second-wealthiest philanthropic organization in the U.S. 

Andrew Carnegie was a great man who came from modest beginnings. We remember him as an industrialist leader of the 19th century American steel industry, as well as a major philanthropist, but his early life tells a different story. A Scottish immigrant, Carnegie’s family moved to Pennsylvania, where his first job at age 13 was that of a bobbin boy in a cotton factory. Carnegie had no education to speak of, but was a major educational philanthropist, donating money to create libraries, the Carnegie Institute of Technology, the Carnegie Institution, and Carnegie Mellon University. Although Carnegie was a major supporter of education, he did not believe in it, at least not in the traditional sense. Carnegie believed that there was a “magic formula” for success that should be put in the reach of regular people, taught in public schools and colleges. He even shared the opinion that if this magic formula were properly taught, students could cut their time spent in school to less than half. 

Famed American businesswoman Mary Kay Ash is recognized as one of the greatest female entrepreneurs in American history and has left behind a legacy of makeup and money, but she did it all with no more than a public high school education. Although Ash excelled in school, she came from a poor family that was not able to send her to college. She married young and had three children, building her cosmetic empire as an uneducated working mother. Ash did spend a year at the University of Houston studying to become a doctor, but she gave it up and returned to her passion of sales instead of pursuing a medical career. 

Homeschoolers can point to Thomas Edison as a shining example of the genius that can be produced by home education. The young Edison had trouble in school thanks to his wandering mind, and only spent a short three months in official schooling. As a grade school dropout, his mother taught him at home, with much of his education coming from the scientific textbook School of Natural Philosophy and texts from The Cooper Union. This education undoubtedly sparked his lifelong love of scientific exploration and innovation, which he paired with a background in entrepreneurship, a skill that began as a boy selling candy and newspaper on trains. 

Edison’s protege, Nikola Tesla, excelled without much in the way of education as well. Tesla studied at the Higher Real Gymnasium in Croatia, and did so well that his teachers thought he was cheating when he was able to perform calculus in his head. He only took three years to finish his four-year term, and went on to study engineering at the Australian Polytechnic. Although he excelled at his studies on the uses of alternating current, he dropped out and never received a degree. According to the university, he simply stopped attending lectures after the first semester of his third year. At the pleading of his father, Tesla attended the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague for one summer semester, but once again, dropped out after the death of his father. Although he did not seem to appreciate higher education for an extended period of time, Tesla was an avid reader and enjoyed memorizing complete books with his photographic memory, a skill that undoubtedly served him as an inventor and futurist. 

Responsible for creating the Disney empire and changing the world of motion pictures forever, Walt Disney was one of the most creative and ambitious high school dropouts in history. While in high school, Disney took night courses at the Chicago Art Institute, even becoming the political cartoonist for the school newspaper. But at the age of 16, Disney dropped out of school to join the Army. The joke was on Disney: he was rejected from the Army for being underage. Still, he didn’t go back to school. Instead, he joined the Red Cross to drive an ambulance during World War I and worked several odd jobs before starting a commercial company in 1920 and launching the beginnings of Disney as we know it. 

George Eastman was the founder of Eastman Kodak Company and the man responsible for bringing photography into the mainstream, but he was a school dropout. Family life interfered with Eastman’s completion of school, as his father died and his mother took in boarders to afford his schooling. After the death of his sister, Eastman left school early to start working. Less than 15 years later, Eastman had patented the first film in roll form. Later in life, his philanthropy allowed him to establish the Eastman School of Music, schools of dentistry and medicine at the University of Rochester, as well as provide donations to MIT, Tuskeegee, and Hampton. 

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill

“Now I have to worry about this, too? Really? This shouldn’t be what they need to do to get where they want to, ” said Dodi Sklar, after listening to her ninth-grade son, Jonathan, describe how some classmates abuse stimulants. 

He steered into the high school parking lot, clicked off the ignition and scanned the scraps of his recent weeks. Crinkled chip bags on the dashboard. Soda cups at his feet. And on the passenger seat, a rumpled SAT practice book whose owner had been told since fourth grade he was headed to the Ivy League. Pencils up in 20 minutes. 

The boy exhaled. Before opening the car door, he recalled recently, he twisted open a capsule of orange powder and arranged it in a neat line on the armrest. He leaned over, closed one nostril and snorted it.
Throughout the parking lot, he said, eight of his friends did the same thing.
The drug was not cocaine or heroin, but Adderall, anamphetamine prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that the boy said he and his friends routinely shared to study late into the night, focus during tests and ultimately get the grades worthy of their prestigious high school in an affluent suburb of New York City. The drug did more than just jolt them awake for the 8 a.m. SAT; it gave them a tunnel focus tailor-made for the marathon of tests long known to make or break college applications.
“Everyone in school either has a prescription or has a friend who does,” the boy said.
At high schools across the United States, pressure over grades and competition for college admissions are encouraging students to abuse prescription stimulants, according to interviews with students, parents and doctors. Pills that have been a staple in some college and graduate school circles are going from rare to routine in many academically competitive high schools, where teenagers say they get them from friends, buy them from student dealers or fake symptoms to their parents and doctors to get prescriptions.
Of the more than 200 students, school officials, parents and others contacted for this article, about 40 agreed to share their experiences. Most students spoke on the condition that they be identified by only a first or middle name, or not at all, out of concern for their college prospects or their school systems’ reputations — and their own.
“It’s throughout all the private schools here,” said DeAnsin Parker, a New York psychologist who treats many adolescents from affluent neighborhoods like the Upper East Side. “It’s not as if there is one school where this is the culture. This is the culture.”
Observed Gary Boggs, a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, “We’re seeing it all across the United States.”
The D.E.A. lists prescription stimulants like Adderall andVyvanse (amphetamines) and Ritalin and Focalin(methylphenidates) as Class 2 controlled substances — the same as cocaine and morphine — because they rank among the most addictive substances that have a medical use. (By comparison, the long-abused anti-anxiety drug Valium is in the lower Class 4.) So they carry high legal risks, too, as few teenagers appreciate that merely giving a friend an Adderall or Vyvanse pill is the same as selling it and can be prosecuted as a felony.
While these medicines tend to calm people with A.D.H.D., those without the disorder find that just one pill can jolt them with the energy and focus to push through all-night homework binges and stay awake during exams afterward. “It’s like it does your work for you,” said William, a recent graduate of the Birch Wathen Lenox School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
But abuse of prescription stimulants can lead to depression and mood swings (from sleep deprivation), heart irregularities and acute exhaustion or psychosis during withdrawal, doctors say. Little is known about the long-term effects of abuse of stimulants among the young. Drug counselors say that for some teenagers, the pills eventually become an entry to the abuse of painkillers and sleep aids.
“Once you break the seal on using pills, or any of that stuff, it’s not scary anymore — especially when you’re getting A’s,” said the boy who snorted Adderall in the parking lot. He spoke from the couch of his drug counselor, detailing how he later became addicted to the painkiller Percocet and eventually heroin.
Paul L. Hokemeyer, a family therapist at Caron Treatment Centers in Manhattan, said: “Children have prefrontal cortexes that are not fully developed, and we’re changing the chemistry of the brain. That’s what these drugs do. It’s one thing if you have a real deficiency — the medicine is really important to those people — but not if your deficiency is not getting into Brown.”
The number of prescriptions for A.D.H.D. medications dispensed for young people ages 10 to 19 has risen 26 percent since 2007, to almost 21 million yearly, according to IMS Health, a health care information company — a number that experts estimate corresponds to more than two million individuals. But there is no reliable research on how many high school students take stimulants as a study aid. Doctors and teenagers from more than 15 schools across the nation with high academic standards estimated that the portion of students who do so ranges from 15 percent to 40 percent.
“They’re the A students, sometimes the B students, who are trying to get good grades,” said one senior at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, a Philadelphia suburb, who said he makes hundreds of dollars a week selling prescription drugs, usually priced at $5 to $20 per pill, to classmates as young as freshmen. “They’re the quote-unquote good kids, basically.”
The trend was driven home last month to Nan Radulovic, a social worker in Santa Monica, Calif. Within a few days, she said, an 11th grader, a ninth grader and an eighth grader asked for prescriptions for Adderall solely for better grades. From one girl, she recalled, it was not quite a request.
“If you don’t give me the prescription,” Ms. Radulovic said the girl told her, “I’ll just get it from kids at school.”
Keeping Everyone Happy
Madeleine surveyed her schedule of five Advanced Placement classes, field hockey and several other extracurricular activities and knew she could not handle it all. The first physics test of the year — inclines, friction, drag — loomed ominously over her college prospects. A star senior at her Roman Catholic school in Bethesda, Md., Madeleine knew a friend whose grades had gone from B’s to A’s after being prescribed Ritalin, so she asked her for a pill.
She got a 95. Thereafter, Madeleine recalled, she got Adderall and Vyvanse capsules the rest of the year from various classmates — not in exchange for money, she said, but for tutoring them in calculus or proofreading their English papers.
“Can I get a drink of water?” Madeleine said she would ask the teacher in one class, before excusing herself and heading to the water fountain. Making sure no one was watching, she would remove a 40-milligram Vyvanse capsule from her purse and swallow it. After 30 minutes, the buzz began, she said: laser focus, instant recall and the fortitude to crush any test in her path.
“People would have never looked at me and thought I used drugs like that — I wasn’t that kid,” said Madeleine, who has just completed her freshman year at an Ivy League college and continues to use stimulants occasionally. “It wasn’t that hard of a decision. Do I want only four hours of sleep and be a mess, and then underperform on the test and then in field hockey? Or make the teachers happy and the coach happy and get good grades, get into a good college and make my parents happy?”
Madeleine estimated that one-third of her classmates at her small school, most of whom she knew well, used stimulants without a prescription to boost their scholastic performance. Many students across the United States made similar estimates for their schools, all of them emphasizing that the drugs were used not to get high, but mostly by conscientious students to work harder and meet ever-rising academic expectations.
These estimates can be neither confirmed nor refuted because little data captures this specific type of drug misuse. A respected annual survey financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Monitoring the Future,” reports that abuse of prescription amphetamines by 10th and 12th graders nationally has actually dipped from the 1990s and is remaining relatively steady at about 10 percent.
However, some experts note that the survey does not focus on the demographic where they believe such abuse is rising steadily — students at high-pressure high schools — and also that many teenagers barely know that what they often call “study drugs” are in fact illegal amphetamines.
“Isn’t it just like a vitamin?” asked one high school junior from Eastchester, a suburb of New York.
Liz Jorgensen, a licensed addiction specialist who runs Insight Counseling in Ridgefield, Conn., said her small center had treated “at least 50 or 60” high school students from southern Connecticut this school year alone who had abused prescription stimulants for academics. Ms. Jorgensen said some of those teenagers landed in rehab directly from the stimulants or, more often, grew comfortable with prescription drugs in general and began abusing prescription painkillers like OxyContin.
A spokesman for Shire, which manufactures Vyvanse and Adderall’s extended-release capsules, said studies had shown no link between prescribed use of those drugs and later abuse.
Dr. Jeff Jonas, Shire’s senior vice president for research and development, said that the company was greatly concerned about the misuse of its stimulants but that the rate was very small. “I’m not aware of any systematic data that suggests there’s a widespread problem,” he said. “You can always find people who testify that it happens.”
Students who sell prescription stimulants to their classmates focus on their burdens and insecurities. One girl who sells to fellow students at Long Beach High School on Long Island said: “These kids would get in trouble if they don’t do well in school. When people take tests, it’s immediately, ‘Who am I getting Adderall from?’ They’re always looking for it.”
Every school identified in this article was contacted regarding statements by its students and stimulant abuse in general. Those that responded generally said that they were concerned about some teenagers turning to these drugs, but that their numbers were far smaller than the students said.
David Weiss, superintendent of Long Beach Public Schools, said the survey his district used to gauge student drug use asked about only prescription medications in general, not stimulants specifically.
“It has not been a surface issue for us — we’re much more conscious of alcohol or other drug use,” Mr. Weiss said in a telephone interview. “We haven’t had word that it’s a widespread issue.”
Douglas Young, a spokesman for the Lower Merion School District outside Philadelphia, said prescription stimulant abuse was covered in various student-wellness initiatives as well as in the 10th-grade health curriculum. Mr. Young expressed frustration that many parents seemed oblivious to the problem.
“It’s time for a serious wake-up call,” Mr. Young said. “Straight A’s and high SAT scores look great on paper, but they aren’t reflective measures of a student’s health and well-being. We need to better understand the pressures and temptations, and ultimately we need to embrace new definitions of student success. For many families and communities, that’s simply not happening.”
Fooling the Doctors
During an interview in March, the dealer at Lower Merion High reached into his pocket and pulled out the container for his daily stash of the prescription stimulants Concerta and Focalin: a hollowed-out bullet. Unlike his other products — marijuana and heroin, which come from higher-level dealers — his amphetamines came from a more trusted, and trusting, source, he said.
“I lie to my psychiatrist — I expressed feelings I didn’t really have, knowing the consequences of it,” he said, standing in a park a few miles from the high school. “I tell the doctor, ‘I find myself very distracted, and I feel this really deep pain inside, like I’m anxious all the time,’ or something like that.”
He coughed out a chuckle and added proudly, “Generally, if you keep playing the angsty-teen role, you’ll get something good.”
Christine, a junior sitting nearby, said she followed the well-known lines to get her drugs directly and legally, a script for scripts. “I’m not able to focus on schoolwork,” she said in a mockingly anxious voice. “I’m constantly looking out the window.” Although she often uses the drugs herself, snorting them for a faster and more intense effect, she said she preferred to save them for when her customers crave them most.
“Right before everybody took the PSATs, a bunch of kids went to the bathroom to snort their Addies,” she said.
This is one of the more vexing problems with stimulants in high schools, experts said — the drugs enter the schools via students who get them legally, if not legitimately.
Older A.D.H.D. drugs required low doses every few hours, and schools, not wanting students to carry the drugs themselves, had the school nurse hold and dispense the pills. Newer long-lasting versions like Adderall XR and Vyvanse allow parents to give children a single dose in the morning, often unaware that the pills can go down a pants pocket as easily as the throat. Some students said they took their pills only during the week and gave their weekend pills to friends.
The mother of one high school freshman in Westchester County said she would open the kitchen cabinet every morning and watch her son take his prescribed dose of Ritalin. She noticed one day that the capsule was strangely airy and held it up to the light. It was empty.
“There were a few times we were short in the month, and I couldn’t understand why,” recalled the woman, whose son was in eighth grade at the time. “It never dawned on me until I found those empty capsules, and then I started discovering the little packets of powder. He was selling it to other kids.”
A number of teenagers interviewed laughed at the ease with which they got some doctors to write prescriptions for A.D.H.D. The disorder’s definition requires inattentiveness,hyperactivity or impulse control to present “clinically significant impairment” in at least two settings (school and home, for example), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Crucially, some of this impairment must have been in evidence by age 7; a proper diagnosis for a teenager claiming to have A.D.H.D., several doctors said, requires interviewing parents, teachers and others to confirm that the problems existed long before.
Many youngsters with prescriptions said their doctors merely listened to their stories and took out their prescription pads. Dr. Hilda R. Roque, a primary-care physician in West New York, N.J., said she never prescribed A.D.H.D. medicine but knew many doctors who did. She said many parents could push as hard for prescriptions as their children did, telling her: “My child is not doing well in school. I understand there are meds he can take to make him smarter.”
“To get a prescription for Adderall was the Golden Ticket — it really was,” said William, the recent graduate of Birch Wathen in Manhattan.
A high school senior in Connecticut who has used his friend’s Adderall for school said: “These are academic steroids. But usually, parents don’t get the steroids for you.”
As with the steroids taken by athletes, the downside of prescription stimulants appears after they provide the desired short-term competitive benefits. This was the case with a recent graduate of McLean High School in Virginia, one of the top public schools in the Washington area.
Late in his sophomore year, the boy wanted some help to raise his B average — far from what top colleges expected, especially from a McLean student. So he told his psychologist what she needed to hear for a diagnosis of A.D.H.D. — even gazing out the window during the appointment for effect — and was soon getting 30 pills of Adderall every month, 10 milligrams each. They worked. He focused late into the night studying, concentrated better during exams and got an A-minus average for his junior year.
“I wanted to do everything I could to get into the quote-unquote right school,” he recalled recently.
As senior year began, when another round of SATs and one last set of good grades could put him over the top, the boy said he still had trouble concentrating. The doctor prescribed 30 milligrams a day. When college applications hit, he bought extra pills for $5 apiece from a girl in French class who had fooled her psychiatrist, too, and began taking several on some days.
The boy said that as his A-minus average continued through senior year, no one suspected that “a kid who went to Bible camp” and had so improved his grades could be abusing drugs. By the time he was accepted and had enrolled at a good but not great college, he was up to 300 milligrams a day — constantly taking more to stave off the inevitable crash.
One night, after he had taken about 400 milligrams, his heart started beating wildly. He began hallucinating and then convulsing. He was rushed to the emergency room and wound up spending seven months at a drug rehabilitation center.
To his surprise, two of 20 fellow patients there had also landed in rehab solely from abusing stimulants in high school.
“No one seems to think that it’s a real thing — adults on the outside looking in,” the boy said. “The other kids in rehab thought we weren’t addicts because Adderall wasn’t a real drug. It’s so underestimated.”
‘No Way You’d Notice’
The Sklar family lives near the top of a daunting hill in Ardsley, a comfortable suburb north of New York City. Ardsley High School sends dozens of graduates every year to Ivy League-caliber colleges. When students there use Facebook, they all know that its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, once walked the same halls.
At their kitchen table after school last month, Dodi Sklar listened as her ninth-grade son, Jonathan, described how some classmates already abused stimulants — long before SATs and college applications. An accomplished student who said he would never join them, Jonathan described the ease with which he could.
“There’s no way you’d notice — that’s why so many kids are doing it,” he told his mother. “I could say I’m going for a run, call someone I know who does it, get some pills from them, take them, come home and work. Just do it. You’d be just glad that I was studying hard.”
His mother sighed. “As a parent you worry about driving, you worry about drinking, you worry about all kinds of health and mental issues, social issues,” she said. “Now I have to worry about this, too? Really? This shouldn’t be what they need to do to get where they want to.”
Asked if the improper use of stimulants was cheating, students were split. Some considered that the extra studying hours and the heightened focus during exams amounted to an unfair advantage. Many countered that the drugs “don’t give you the answers” and defended their use as a personal choice for test preparation, akin to tutoring.
One consensus was clear: users were becoming more common, they said, and some students who would rather not take the drugs would be compelled to join them because of the competition over class rank and colleges’ interest.
A current law student in Manhattan, who said he dealt Adderall regularly while at his high school in Sarasota, Fla., said that insecurity was a main part of his sales pitch: that those students “would feel at a huge disadvantage,” he said.
William, the recent Birch Wathen graduate, said prescription stimulants became a point of contention when a girl with otherwise middling grades suddenly improved her SAT score.
“There was an uproar among kids — some people were really proud of her, and some kids were really jealous and mad,” he recalled. “I don’t remember if she had a prescription, but she definitely took more than was prescribed. People would say, ‘You’re so smart,’ and she’d say, ‘It wasn’t all me.’ ”
One sophomore at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Calif., is unsure what his future holds. Enrolled at one of the top high schools on the West Coast, he said he tried a friend’s Adderall this semester but disliked the sensation of his heart beating rapidly for hours. He vowed never to do it again.
But as he watches upperclassmen regularly abuse stimulants as they compete for top college slots, he is not quite sure.
“Junior and senior year is a whole new ballgame,” the boy said. “I promised myself I wouldn’t take it, but that can easily, easily change. I can be convinced.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 17, 2012
A chart last Sunday with an article about the abuse of prescription stimulants by high school students referred incorrectly to the availability of a generic equivalent of one drug, Concerta. A generic form of the drug has been available since 2011; it is not the case that it is not available and that therefore Concerta could be more expensive. The article also referred incorrectly to Nan Radulovic, a health care worker in Santa Monica, Calif., who said students had asked her for Adderall prescriptions. She is a social worker, not a Ph.D. and psychotherapist and therefore is not a “Dr.”

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