“I Sold My ADHD Medication and Got Caught”
ADHD and attention coach Jeff Copper interviews a college student who was arrested for medication diversion — selling his Adderall prescription to a classmate — and faced a minimum mandatory sentence of 2 to 14 years.
For teens and young adults not diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), stimulant medications may look especially attractive before midterm and final exams — when sustained focus and accelerated motivation are at a premium. Many students don’t realize, however, that most prescription medications for ADHD (such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse) are classified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as Schedule II controlled substances, the same class that cocaine and meth fall under.
State laws largely follow the government scheduling classifications when it comes to criminal penalties for controlled substances, so possessing these so-called “study drugs” without a prescription is a crime, and selling them — even if just to an eager classmate — may result in jail time and hefty fines. In California, for example, an individual found guilty of selling a schedule II controlled substance may face 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Here, ADHD coach Jeff Copper of DIG Coaching and Attention Talk Radio, interviews a college student who found himself in this very serious and very scary situation after selling his ADHD medication to another student. His story offers an important reminder for students with ADHD — and their families.
For more information, on the legal consequences of selling controlled substances, see: blogs.findlaw.com.
Jeff Copper: In college, you were caught with medication diversion. Can you tell us about it?
Joe*: One morning, I woke up to a call from the head of security on campus, asking me to meet him downstairs on the ground floor of my dorm building. I had just woken up, and went down to the lobby in my pajamas, still groggy.
Five minutes after I got there, 15 police officers – both local and state – and one DEA agent arrived. They wanted to search my dorm room.
Copper: At this point, do you know why the police are there?
Joe: I realized that these authority figures are in my dorm because I sold some of my Adderall to another student, but in my mind, I still didn’t think I had really been caught.
They say, “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” I said, “I’ll gladly do it the hard way.” But within 15 minutes, they had obtained a warrant.
They put me in handcuffs, then half of the officers went up to my dorm room and tore it apart – pulled everything out of the cabinets, flipped the bed, and tore a stuffed animal I had to shreds.
When the search was finished, they took me to the local station, took my prints, mug shots, and put me in a holding cell. At that point, I realized this was really real. I’m in big trouble, the likes of which I had never seen in my life.
I was taken to an interrogation room. The cops thought I was part of a much larger drug trafficking “operation,” so they asked me about suppliers. I told them, honestly, that I had none. They asked me about other drug activity on campus. They wanted me to give up other dealers to try to help myself.
Copper: You weren’t part of a huge drug “operation.” You are a young adult with ADHD, and you went to college with some stimulant medications to treat your condition. How did you get into this situation?
Joe: Looking back, there was a pretty clear progression.
I went away to a college I wasn’t thrilled to attend. I didn’t like my classes or the people I was surrounded by. So, I used alcohol and marijuana as a crutch to escape my unhappiness. Of course, I couldn’t afford those substances consistently without an income.
It all started when a girl in one of my classes asked to buy an Adderall here or there to help her study for exams. I realized I had an easy source of money right there in my pocket.
It only ramped up after winter break when she left the school. She came to me, and said her boyfriend who went to school about an hour away would like to buy from me. He started to drive out once a month, and my Adderall began to go from the pharmacy to his hands – I was the conveyer.
Copper: Did you feel like you were dealing drugs, or realize the serious risk of what was going on?
Joe: On college campuses, it’s an open secret. People love ADHD medication.
With Adderall, there is a flippant attitude. People who knew I have ADHD would ask me in public, with no volume control, “Can you hook me up? I have an exam.”
You don’t see that kind of behavior with cocaine or other drugs. Everyone laughs and jokes about it. It’s not really hidden, so you get relaxed about it.
Then a friend asks, “Can you help me with one?” So you think, “Hey, what’s one going to hurt?”
It was not a devious plan. It was a slow progression that felt rather innocent, and all of the sudden there are 15 policemen ransacking my room.
Copper: So, you are sitting in a holding cell, not knowing what’s going to happen next. Could you tell us what happened from there?
Joe: After the two detectives interviewed me, and asked questions they would ask a serious drug dealer, reality – and fear – set in. It wasn’t just of the legal consequences I was facing; it was of telling my parents.
I was so terrified of what they would say that, when the police finally gave me my one phone call, I hung up after two rings. It was silly because, once they finally got involved, all they wanted to do was help me.
The police informed me I was being charged with two felony counts of trafficking amphetamines, which carried mandatory minimums of 1 to 7 years each, meaning, if I was convicted of both my sentence would be a minimum mandatory of 2 to 14 years.
I was fully booked, deloused, given a jumpsuit, and put back in holding before I given a second chance to call my parents.
They found a bail bondsman who secured my release, and 12 hours after being taken off campus in a police car, he took me back to my dorm room that had been completely destroyed.
In the next couple days and weeks all I had was terror and loneliness. Your friends don’t stick around when you’ve just been arrested for being a drug dealer.
Copper: What was the case against you?
Joe: The boyfriend I was selling to was pulled over after leaving my campus with the Adderall he had bought from me, and a plethora of other illicit substances. For his next two “buys” from me, he was wearing a camera and video recording. There was no arguing that I was not guilty.
I dropped out of school and hired a lawyer. His strategy was to argue that I was a good kid who was caught up in bad circumstances.
Three weeks after my arrest, I started the process of conveying this to the judge by enrolling in a wilderness therapy program for drug and alcohol. I spent the next three and a half months in intensive talk therapy and outdoor activities with minimal contact with or support from my family and friends.
After the program, my lawyer recommended I go to a sober house for seven months. There, I was drug tested three times a week, breathalyzed on demand, and subjected to very strict house rules including therapy and AA meeting requirements. During my stay, I worked minimum wage jobs, trying to keep my mind off my future hanging in jeopardy.
Two years after I first started selling my medication, I got a call from my lawyer. He had managed — against all odds — to get the charges dropped and expunged. It took me another year after that to even start to consider going back to school full time.
Copper: That is certainly great news! But you lost a year of your life just in treatment, with legal bills on top of that. Through all of this, what did you learn?
Joe: The biggest lesson I learned right away was just how wrong that lackadaisical attitude toward ADHD medication is – in high school, at college, or at work.
In time, I realized I didn’t know myself. I had no idea how to become a happy, functioning member of society, or to take the responsibility of having those powerful medications seriously.
At the end of it all, it was a terrible experience that was completely my fault. Yet, I’m glad that it happened because it helped me wake up and grow up, in a way I don’t think I would have otherwise.
I am back on track to a degree, and about a year away from graduating from a really great school. I volunteer with organizations that help children with learning disabilities to help prevent these kids from going down the path I did. I could not be in a better place, considering the circumstances.
I hope that telling my story can keep someone else from making a terrible, life-changing mistake.
*Names were changed to protect the anonymity of the college student interviewed.
ADDitude readers, how are you preparing your teens to manage their own medication in college? What are your greatest worries? Have your discussed medication diversion? Tell us in the COMMENTS section below.