ADHD Doc "Take Your Pills" Tackles Prescription Stimulant Misuse

By Paul Gaita 04/05/18
The documentary has drawn criticism from some people with ADHD, who feel it may cast a stigma over medication for the condition.
50s' era billboard featured in "Take Your Pills"
Photo via YouTube

Stories about abuse and dependency of prescription medications outside of the opioid family have recently taken a back seat in media coverage to the epidemic.

But a new documentary, Take Your Pills, which premiered on Netflix last month, hopes to shed light on the misuse of Adderall and similar stimulants for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which has been a growing problem among young people for more than a decade.

Pills, directed by Emmy-nominated documentarian Alison Klayman, looks at the impact of misusing the drugs, which have been increasingly prescribed for both young people and adults. 

It's a subject that is deeply personal for two of the film's producers—journalist and former California First Lady Maria Shriver, and her daughter, Christina Schwarzenegger—but for others who struggle with ADHD and related conditions, the documentary may seem to cast a negative light on medication that they deem necessary for everyday life.

Shriver has served as producer on other documentaries, but Pills is the first effort in such a capacity by Schwarzenegger, whose father is actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Christina was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) in grade school, and took Adderall for a brief period of time while in high school.

"I stopped taking it, just because I didn't like the side effects," she told Fox News.

But she began taking Adderall again while attending Georgetown University, and began using it frequently. "I didn't really become too dependent on it until I was in my junior year of college," noted Schwarzenegger.

She again stopped taking the drug, but the experience, along with observations and talk with peers, brought her to the conclusion that the drug was overused by, and overprescribed to, young people.

"I feel that this is an epidemic, just from my firsthand experience in college," she told Deadline. "Talking with friends I went to college with about life post-college, we all couldn’t envision a life without Adderall, and that was incredibly troublesome to me and my friends."

Shriver stressed that the documentary is not opposed to Adderall use. "It's very helpful, obviously, for people who have ADD, who struggle with their attention span," she said. "And I think if they find it helpful, if they're able to take it on an as-needed basis or the way it was prescribed by your doctor without abusing, I think that's totally fine.

"But we don't know the long-term consequences. We don't know if it's right for someone who started it at seven to continue all the way until they're 30-something. I think people should understand it's a tool, but it can be an addicting drug. People need to be aware about the serious side effects of it."

But Pills has also drawn criticism from some individuals with ADHD, who view the film as casting a stigma on their medication. Scottish Labour Party member Daniel Johnson, who serves as his party's justice spokesman, takes a slow-release form of Ritalin for a form of ADHD, and believes that Pills could make some with the diagnosis more reluctant to be proactive about the condition. 

"This new documentary is very provocative and inflammatory, and that's not helpful," said Johnson. "For people with ADHD, these drugs are taken for a medical issue, not a social one. I worry this program will make it more difficult for people with ADHD to talk about it with their employers, family and friends, which is what makes life easier.

"We shouldn't be demonizing a category of drugs without looking at why they might legitimately be used, and at the benefit they give to people who, for medical reasons, need to take them."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.