Volume 22, Number 1

Generation Rx

Jason Isaac Ulrich

“Let the concrete dry before playing on the sidewalk” —Old Drug Addict Adage

I have been on psychoactive pharmaceuticals since the age of five. It was my preschool and kindergarten principal. Mrs. Eileen Minerick. This is a woman even my mother called by her prefix and last name. My mom got the call. She was told I had too much energy. I had broken a crystalline vase. Why a crystalline vase was sitting in a kindergarten dayroom to begin with is quite another question but due to its own destruction at my hand, I’d been condemned to the world of pre-adolescent prescriptions.

The years went on. My drug cocktails, sanctioned by the all-knowing doctors of modern day, moved from a gentle speed to pure amphetamine. It was during the Ritalin boom of the mid-‘90s, when the rate of children prescribed stimulants rose by over 300 percent. Swiftly and out of the blue, I had anxiety problems. To counteract these, I was given Xanax, Valium and Klonopin. I found myself quickly becoming the fattest kid in 1st grade, which is far worse than being the skinniest kid in a drug-addled kindergarten. Out of this concoction came a kid with the meanest mood swings you would ever lay eyes upon. That is, unless you’ve stood in the candy aisle of any supermarket whilst the parent standing parallel is given a verbal assault worthy of three politically-incorrect ass-whoopings. Maybe that was all I needed. Maybe I just needed to play unhindered, without the influence of lisdexamphetamine playing with me.

A few more years went by. I was hospitalized in second grade. I don’t really remember it but I’m told it’s from the medical mixture. Four days is a long time for anyone to stay up, much less a child. I do remember quite vividly the months leading up to that or rather, the mornings. I would sit, eating breakfast, making smiley-face designs based on my current mood. Put together through the insurmountably large number of a.m. pills. Sometimes, I’d try for David’s Star. With my post-lunch pills, I could only make a five-pointed star. Needless to say, following my doctor’s medicinal fuck-up and my supposedly seeing dead people, I was shut away in a Special Education school.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to understand the blow of déjà vu I was dealt when sent to Mountain View Alternative school my senior year. It was at this place that I moved from a social drug user who occasionally dabbled in coke while drinking and smoked copious amounts of weed into the terrain of being a habitual drug addict. As a bad apple, I was once again tossed into the barrel marked ‘rotting.” In both ‘special’ schools, most all the students were on one drug or another. While in elementary school, my peers’ lunch would be followed by a second dosing of speed and mood stabilizers, at Mountain View, lunch was a vast array of pot smoke, meth bumps and lots of pills, most of which were some morphine derivative. In the exceptionally wealthy region ‘The View’ was situated in, I wasn’t all that surprised. Besides, nearly half of every American takes at least one prescription a day. Mix together bored kids, money and pills and you’re definitely not getting a Chicken Molé dish, but instead, the repetitious recipe for junkies.

It was around 3rd grade that my crazy mother decided me being witness to hallucinated dead people and actual psychopaths was more then she could further observe. In response, she immediately threw away all my meds and found an herbal specialist who ended up being as helpful as the doctors. By this time, between the Depakote, Stelazine, uppers, downers and all-arounders, the shock to my system was more than I could bear, tossing me (for the very first time) into the throes of psychotropic withdrawal. Not knowing what it was, both my mother and I took it for the flu; a nasty one made up of body pains, hot and cold flashes, shakes, nausea and more then minor irritability. It was once I was off the meds and through the withdrawal that the most nauseating of all drugs imbibed orally came to be given me. Crushed, mixed, minced, and dried herbs as well as juices were combined by the ‘nature specialist,’ creating a strange tonic. The stuff was force-fed to me, all the way up until my mom decided toilets were made to conserve water, not to flush it. A few drug-free weeks later, she was back in the hospital.

When I think about that rank, pulpy, disgustingly saccharine substance (I’d call it a drink but it was more like long-cut dip mixed with a disgusting variety of peanut butter [almost impossible, yet not], soaked in syrup water) Shonty, the herbal con artist, had created and had me imbibe twice daily, I can’t help but liken its appearance, taste, smell and even texture to boiled heroin. Either the cooked-up powder scramble of DC and Baltimore or the Mexican black tar of California, both brought back memories of that slimy pavement grease I was obliged to consume from third grade to fourth, though the effects of heroin were obviously far and above more pleasurable. Both, when used, made me feel self-conscious, as though I was substituting these poisons for some concrete fix, to fill the hole left by other unknowns of the past.

It was soon after my close friend Zack overdosed sitting in the front passenger seat of my Camry that I decided pharms were better than drugs, illegal to begin with. Zack was going through crack withdrawal at the time, and he shot three bags (rather, $30 worth) of heroin at once, going against both my and my close friend’s objections. I’ll never know why he did it exactly, though he said that he needed enough to make him ‘chill out,’ not worry about crack. That night, his face turned bluer than the Adderall tablets I would use to make the eyes on the breakfast smiley-faces of my childhood. I remember my friend and me beating the living shit out of this guy trying to wake him up. All the while, Sublime’s Boss DJ played in the background: “It’s so nice, I wanna hear the same song twice.” The police and paramedics told my dad that if we had called 911 a moment later, he wouldn’t have woken from the self-medicated oblivion he'd relegated himself to. Once in jail, he had to face his crack addiction alone, without even the assistance of his legitimately prescribed anti-psychotics. But for me, there was freedom for a brief respite.

It was three or four years after my mom’s toilet-bowl-related hospitalization and the force-fed mud. I was actually doing quite decently. I was in middle school, sober, and going through my parent’s divorce. I had just finished some history project where we had to make half a clay pyramid; carve out the tunnels, the booby traps and hidden chambers, though most booby traps were simply dead ends. Lying down on the light gray leather couch, I flipped the television on in exhaustion. All I could think about was how much I didn’t want to be thinking. Then, during the second commercial break of Survivor, my thoughts, then attention, caught wind of one advertisement in particular. It was for some random drug promising escape into a sleep of beautiful nocturnes. I wanted it immediately, missing the makings of my pill-laden smiley-face. A tougher-than-usual year-and-a-half went by, and not only was I drinking liquor and smoking mid-grade pot, but I was also taking Ambien at bedtime. That was 2001. In that single year, 3.1 billion prescriptions were filled in the US alone. I was one of the 8.5 million who annually requested and received a prescription for a drug seen in a TV ad. All drug addicts are sheep. At least while they’re addicted to the drugs.

So here we have a system that gets kids addicted to amphetamines at the age of throwing a baseball through a window, and it is for that very reason itself the doctors prescribed drugs. Here, we have doctors diagnosing children with mental disorders for acting like children. Here, we have this cycle and its genesis, whose exodus’ only fate is to return. It was shortly after I quit shooting heroin that I took up seeing a child psychiatrist again. Maybe it was the knowledge that child doctors love handing scripts out, and I might as well take advantage while I was still 20. Maybe he saw that kid inside who never got his chance at childhood (at least according to my medical file). Either case, I was quickly gifted with ADHD meds, which were quickly succeeded by anxiety meds (back to the Xanax, Valium and Klonopin).

It was during one of these half-hour med checks that lasted ten minutes when this notion popped into my head. If I’m given something like Adderall (an amphetamine; speed), would that not naturally knock up my anxiety level? Of course it would! Just like taking anti-anxiety meds, used to wean alcoholics off their handles of vodka a day habit, would make you woozy and light on attention. These two drugs weren’t working together. Rather, they were counteracting each other, or, as many a junkie would refer to it, a speedball. It didn’t matter though. By the time I came to this realization, I was already quite too comfortable in my daily doses of Methadone, Adderall and Klonopin (to name a few) to care all that much. And people wondered why I sweat so much!

Four or five months back, I was sitting in my psych doctor’s luxurious waiting room, conjecturing upon why my old illegal-drug dealers never had such a nice locale to wait in, much less a beautiful office to do business in. It has now been half a decade since I’ve seen Zack (the car incident being the last time). I was in between thoughts when I heard my name called out as though a question mark trailed behind it. Looking up, I watched my Indian doctor dispatch some pre-adolescent, who was his previous patient, as well as an outraged mother from his chambers. The young boy’s mother appeared angry, red in the cheeks and crinkled across the forehead. I stepped past them and, after letting my doc enter first, I crossed the threshold into his office. Seconds before I gentled his door into its frame, I heard the outer-office, thick-frosted and slab-glassed door batter against the inert double that cradled it during the day and held it locked in place at night. Sitting down in the ultra-plush, royal red armchair, while he switched manila folders in his stress-reducing stool, with attached black leather backing (for his sciatica), I couldn’t help but throw my thumb backwards and ask, what’s the deal exactly.

“The mother. She was told by a teacher that her child was clearly showing symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Which he clearly wasn’t.”

“In your medical opinion?” I asked, though more as a statement.

“Not the teacher’s, though,” he quipped back in his Punjabi accent.

“So? That’s a good thing that he’s not! Why was she so mad?”

“She was already fully convinced. Convinced that he had it. Figured I would put him on Ritalin today. Tomorrow, latest.”

“But you said no?” I asked curiously.

“I said maybe. I told her to let the child play more often. To go outside. He is only in the first grade. He doesn’t need to be taught piano or immersed in Japanese. Only learn in class. Socializing!” he cried out. He made this last statement as though it were common sense, which it should be.

“Yeah, parents are pretty crazy. Seems like the mom wanted it worse than the kid needed it!”

His reply sent goose bumps down my back. It is the reason I now tell you, don’t feel bad for me. Don’t feel pity. And, if you do, simply remind yourself I’m one of millions. These millions, soon to become billions. In a country where some 17 million-plus kids are prescribed drugs, and the wise old medicine men are simply validating their own existence each time they write one of these prescripts. I can’t help but go over and over his response in my head.

“Why is this?” he inquired naively. And as the shivers suddenly splashed upon my collar bone, electromagnetic waves crashing down across my back, heaving neck hairs up sharply, and reminding me of how I felt each time Mel Gibson yelled ‘Freedom!” in Braveheart, I could think of only one answer and one answer alone.

I don’t know.

In 1985, approximately half a million American children were diagnosed and drugged for ADHD or ADD. Today, that number has skyrocketed to an altogether-horrifying six million kids running around on some form of speed. Holy shit! Between the years of 1992 and 2003, prescription abuse rose at two times the rate of marijuana, five times that of coke and 60 times that of heroin. WTF? In that time, stimulant prescription to toddlers aged two to four rose 50 percent as well.

This is disgusting.

So why is this?

I just don’t know....