Adderall Treats ADHD But Can Lead to Addiction. One Clinic Tries to Help OC Kick 'College Crack'

Who’s Your Addy?
Adderall has been hailed as a ‘miracle drug’ for ADHD sufferers. But they’re not the ones using it

Morgan Richardson’s pickup zips along a dark, lonely stretch of highway. His mind is not on the thick, acrid smoke from San Diego’s apocalyptic wildfires that have accompanied him on this late-night ride, but the past.

Morgan Richardson traces his meth addiction to Adderall
John Gilhooley
Morgan Richardson traces his meth addiction to Adderall
Dennis Larkin, with Kona, started SouthCoast Recovery in his garage
John Gilhooley
Dennis Larkin, with Kona, started SouthCoast Recovery in his garage

Twenty-two years earlier, the then-fidgety, withdrawn and disruptive sixth grader was diagnosed with what was then a barely heard-of medical condition: attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The family physician eventually prescribed the boy Adderall, a powerful psychostimulant that seemed to make everything better.

With his speedometer hitting 85 mph as he races along Highway 8 in remote northeastern San Diego County, everything is not better. Richardson is out of his mind, high on methamphetamine. He chose this road because it is far from everyone he loves. As tears stream down his face, he folds up his left leg, wedging it under his steering wheel. His hands now free, he grabs a sawed-off shotgun from the bench seat. Twinkling lights from an Indian casino seem to dance on his pickup’s shiny hood as he pushes the muzzle against his temple. He takes one last glance at his reflection in the rearview mirror. He shuts his eyes. He pulls the trigger.


“The round did not go off,” Richardson explains now, five years later. He took that as a sign.

“I had a spiritual awakening. A lot of addicts will tell you this has happened at certain points in their lives. I had that moment. I thought about how the place I had decided to take my life, I didn’t have my life taken. I realized I had to so something.”

A ruggedly handsome 37-year-old, Richardson calmly relates his harrowing tale from a counseling office at SouthCoast Recovery. The San Juan Capistrano drug-treatment facility has helped meth addicts for years, but SouthCoast recently launched what is believed to be the county’s first program solely dedicated to kicking the first amphetamine that Richardson ever tried: Adderall.

“We just see it a lot,” says SouthCoast Recovery’s Tom Petersen. “It’s so entrenched.”

Adderall thus joins Oxycontin, Vicodin and many more prescription drugs that SouthCoast counselors deal with—in addition to traditional street drugs such as cocaine, heroin and meth. Down economy? The recovery business is booming.

“I don’t know if it’s an epidemic or if we are just paying more attention to it,” SouthCoast Executive Director Dennis Larkin says. “The kids have switched to things that are in mom’s medicine cabinet. They found out pharmaceutical medications work better than street-grade drugs. They have cocktail parties with medications everyone brings from their homes. They discovered Adderall is a cool one, it works. So then they don’t add it to the cocktail; they keep it for themselves. A lot of parents don’t know the Adderall is missing.”

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Before Richardson was diagnosed with ADHD and schools knew how to assist the learning disabled, young Morgan was consigned to classes for the physically handicapped, isolating and embarrassing him. He grew to hate school and started ditching class and gravitating toward misfits. And he could never seem to grasp why doing things like picking up a BB gun and shooting out all windows in his neighborhood was a big deal.

Knowing he had a medical condition made it easier to cope, and the drugs made it easier to learn.

Today, ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed affliction in American children. The National Institute of Mental Health says about 2 million schoolchildren, or 3 percent to 7 percent of them, have ADHD. More kids than ever before are legally ingesting methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine and Adderall).

Those who suffer from ADHD are more likely than others to have their attention sidetracked by the sights, sounds and smells around them. While a classmate can block everything else out to concentrate solely on the lesson the teacher is writing on the chalkboard, the ADHD sufferer’s brain is bombarded by the sound of footsteps in the hall, the sight of a bird perched on the windowsill, even the smell of the sandwich in Joey Flanagan’s backpack.

Small doses of Adderall slow down the racing minds of ADHD sufferers so they can focus. (See “This Is Your Brain on Adderall.”) Studies show that after an initial dose, students can better solve math problems and keep up with classroom studies.

“Ritalin and Adderall are my first memories of prescription drugs,” Richardson says. “They really took hold. The first prescription worked very well. It straightened me out. I was teachable, more manageable.”

But such drugs are not without their risks. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine has reported the induction of schizophrenic-like states in children on prescribed doses of Adderall.

Dextroamphetamines increase blood pressure and heart rate, constrict blood vessels and increase blood glucose. High doses may result in dangerously high body temperature and irregular heartbeat. There is also the potential for cardiovascular failure or lethal seizures.

Long-term effects can include stunted growth, psychotic episodes, heart complications, fatigue, depression, sleeplessness and addiction. Critics charge it will eventually deplete your creativity; published research shows Adderall increases horniness and impotence at the same time.

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