Surge

Generation Rx: Millennials on medication

By Roger Yale

For The Surge

Garrett Ferrebee. Courtesy photo.
Garrett Ferrebee. Courtesy photo.

“I don’t know if I will ever permanently go off my medication. But I do know it takes time to figure out how to be an adult, with medication or without it. And that would be the case for any 20-something regardless of their attention span. We’re all just trying to become whoever we are; in whichever way we think is best.”

The above quote comes from Jenny Kutner, a senior staff writer at Mic [www.mic.com] – a media outlet founded by and focused on millennials, and according to its website, reaches an audience of more than 30 million each month.

Kutner started taking Adderall for her ADD when she was 20 – a late adopter joining the ranks of a sizable and growing subset of her millennial peers – referred to by many as “The Ritalin Generation.” She cited an almost immediate change in her organizational skills and her focus, but there was a tradeoff.

“As someone who has gone on and off Adderall over the past few years, I do feel like there is a qualitative distinction between who I am on my meds and who I am off them,” she wrote, adding that ADHD medications “can mitigate the most disruptive symptoms of ADHD and can dramatically improve productivity. But they can also have undesirable side effects that make life without medication seem more appealing – which is why so many young adults who were diagnosed with ADD early in life are deciding to stop taking their meds.”

North Myrtle Beach resident Garrett Ferrebee, 21, is one of those millennials who has had enough.

Diagnosed with ADHD at 7, Ferrebee’s medication odyssey ran the gamut – including Adderall, Ritalin, Strattera and, finally Vyvanse – a staggering list to be sure, but these were only the ADHD meds. Later on, he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder [ODD] and put on Depakote, a mood stabilizer, and had periodic injections of a powerful antipsychotic called Invega.

He calls bullshit on the ODD diagnosis

“It was really just me being a stubborn teenager – and I even pointed that out to my parents,” he said.

But one has to step back and take his journey piece by piece.

I remember when I was little, I never sat still. I was always bouncing off the walls and doing stuff to get in trouble. I would color on the walls and just do crazy stuff. To this day my mom tells me that she doesn’t know how she put up with me when I was a little kid. I mean, I was everywhere.

Garrett Ferrebee

“I remember when I was little, I never sat still,” he said. “I was always bouncing off the walls and doing stuff to get in trouble. I would color on the walls and just do crazy stuff. To this day my mom tells me that she doesn’t know how she put up with me when I was a little kid. I mean, I was everywhere.”

Of course, he was having trouble in school, and eventually his parents took him to his pediatrician, and Ferrebee was put on Adderall – by a doctor that mother Donna Ferrebee said was ADHD himself.

Adderall, a patented blend of amphetamine salts, was first introduced in 1996.

“From then on, I became a calm, normal person,” he said.

Normal, perhaps, except for the inherent and increasing sleeplessness and irritability. He would go to bed unable to sleep, and when he finally did sleep, it wasn’t for long.

“I would be angry, cranky – wouldn’t want to get up. I never wanted to get up for school. It was just getting up so early and then having like three hours of sleep,” he said.

Donna Ferrebee said the Adderall indeed calmed him down and he was able to focus better in school, but confirmed the side effects.

When he woke up in the morning, you could definitely tell the difference before he took his medicine and when it kicked in. It was a fight to get him ready. But, by the time it would kick in and he got to school, he would be settled and would do well.

Donna Ferrebee on her son, Garrett

“When he woke up in the morning, you could definitely tell the difference before he took his medicine and when it kicked in. It was a fight to get him ready. But, by the time it would kick in and he got to school, he would be settled and would do well,” she said.

But he wasn’t eating much or gaining weight.

“It turned a 7-year-old into basically like a 40-year-old meth addict,” he said.

This came to an end one night after his father, Bill Ferrebee, inadvertently mixed up the medication and wound up taking his son’s instead of his own.

“I didn’t sleep,” he said. “I was up all night long and all the next day. That stuff is hard on a person.”

Next came Strattera, which didn’t work. Then Ritalin, which worked for a while.

“The doctor put him on Vyvanse, which had an effect on him like, who is this – this isn’t our son,” Donna Ferrebee said. “But I wouldn’t recommend Adderall to anybody.”

Ferrebee said the Vyvanse seemed to work for a while, adding that it started to go south in his system.

“It made me go crazy in the head for a little bit,” he said. “After being on Vyvanse for so long, it basically flips a switch in the brain for some people, and it doesn’t make them right. That was at the end of 11th grade – they got me off the medicine because I became a real angry and violent person.”

Indeed – Ferrebee became so violent that he got into altercations with his three older siblings, pulling butcher knives on one of them. He also got into a few scrapes with the law.

I was never happy. My mom and dad could tell you that I wasn’t the same. I wasn’t Garrett. I was a little demon running around the city.

Garrett Ferrebee

“I was never happy,” he said. “My mom and dad could tell you that I wasn’t the same. I wasn’t Garrett. I was a little demon running around the city.”

“The Vyvanse was doing a number on him, and he was doing a number on everything else,” said Bill Ferrebee.

His issues led to court-mandated stints at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health in Charleston – where he was diagnosed with the Bipolar Disorder and ODD and prescribed the Depakote and Invega.

When he turned 18, Ferrebee decided to stop taking medication altogether. He was now of age, and decided to try to manage without it.

“I haven’t been doing anything for it since 2013. They say as you get older that you can learn to handle it, but I still have some trouble.”

That being said, Ferrebee also said he has no plans to go back on medication.

Donna Ferrebee said that her son has learned to control himself quite well.

“When you are 16 or 17, your hormones are raging and you don’t know what you want to do in life, so everything is confusing. The ADHD and the Bipolar added to that, so we were trying medication.”

She also added that although he also tried to self-medicate, that wasn’t the answer either.

“He understands that the answer is for him to focus on his own and to make the right choices. He has learned that the hard way,” she said, adding that he eats very well now and sleeps better.

Ferrebee, who says he was the only one lucky enough to inherit his ADHD from his father [ADHD is hereditary] doesn’t think these disorders are talked about enough.

When I was a kid in school, they just looked at me like I was out of control and stuck me in a different class. I used to be ashamed I was ADHD and I thought it was something bad. A lot of kids are ashamed of it. There is no need to be ashamed of it.

Garrett Ferrebee

“When I was a kid in school, they just looked at me like I was out of control and stuck me in a different class. I used to be ashamed I was ADHD and I thought it was something bad. A lot of kids are ashamed of it. There is no need to be ashamed of it.”

He offered some advice for other young people going through what he did.

“There is light at the end of this tunnel, and as much as I hated going to get the help, I’m glad I did. For people who feel like they are struggling – go get help – go talk to someone about your problems – but I wouldn’t recommend getting admitted somewhere.”

Surge reached out to leaders in the community for input on the touchy subject of young people and medication – and discovered a thread of commonality, albeit with different viewpoints. A couple of physicians did not return our calls.

With more and more of our young people being medicated in one form or another, is there a culture of pathology at play here? It almost seems like medicated is the new normal.

Tony Roman is a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Roman Clinical Consulting, LLC [www.romanclinicalconsulting.com]. His primary areas of expertise are treating addictions and the severely mentally ill.

“Basically I do agree that we live in a society and culture where the first course of action – or first kind of resource – is to take a pill or to treat it through medication before perhaps truly investigating the root causes of the symptoms or behaviors. I have this conversation a lot with some of my clients who instantly want to go to medication right away,” he said.

He added that sometimes he tells his clients that getting on medication immediately is like jumping right to bypass surgery when a person is just starting to have some chest pain or shortness of breath.

Many times I feel like it’s the first solution when other non-medication treatment approaches can be investigated and rendered beforehand.

Tony Roman, clinical social worker

“Many times I feel like it’s the first solution when other non-medication treatment approaches can be investigated and rendered beforehand.”

He said that research shows that medications are most effective in conjunction with participation in some form of mental health therapy.

“The way I look at it is not too far off from the idea that there is a culture of overprescribed medications. A lot of individuals are placed on medication without going through the proper evaluation channels – perhaps not having a thorough mental health or psychiatric evaluation to concretely determine the symptoms and provide an accurate diagnosis.”

Medication, Roman said, is sometimes seen as an instant fix – and the risk of addiction associated with certain ADHD medications is very real.

“One of the other ways besides pain medication that I might get some addiction referrals – is through abuse of ADHD meds – the stimulants like Vyvanse or Ritalin – because they can be abused by people who are prescribed them legally, but also by adolescents or young people – college students that are seeking to obtain and utilize them almost as a performance enhancement to help with attention and focus – and they can also be used recreationally as a stimulant.”

When Roman speaks with clients and parents about medication, he said his role is to give them all of the facts – the pros and cons, and potential side effects.

“I am not 100 percent against medication, “he said. “Far from it. I’m giving them all of the information about the downsides and the potential consequences if not taken properly and if not taken in conjunction with a larger plan of care.”

The mission of The Wellness Council for South Carolina [www.wellnesscouncilcsc.org] is “to improve the health of South Carolina residents and the environment, by increasing education and the active participation of its citizens and organizations.”

“I think that we are all programmed to want a quick fix these days,” said Founder and Executive Director Kristi Jacques Falk “We want everything now. I am guilty of this as well. I have a hard time with the word patience when trying to get tasks accomplished. When it comes to my health, however, I know that to do it the right way means that it will take time. So, ‘right now’ means we want the pill to help us sleep, lose weight or give us energy. The problem with this is the pages and pages of side effects of the quick fixes. Just listen to a drug ad on television.”

But how would Falk relate this to the issue of ADHD?

“A small child isn’t really made to sit still. Not to mention the fact that so many kids consume an obscene amount of sugar and caffeine. What does sugar and caffeine do to you? They get a sugar high, jittery and hyperactive. So then they are put on medication so fast, diagnosed with ADD or ADHD when a few dietary changes can make a world of difference. I’m not saying that there aren’t true cases of these disorders, but I don’t think so many of these kids do not need medication.”

Falk told us that in addition to some basic dietary changes, a high quality fish oil supplement has been shown to make improvements in ADHD and other disorders.

“A study in the journal of pediatrics says that ‘a lack of certain polyunsaturated fatty acids may contribute to dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.’ For bipolar disorder, on top of the fish oil, the amino acid 5-HTP is recommended because it converts to serotonin in the body and helps with depression and sleep among others. I always recommend chiropractic because it is vital to a proper functioning nervous system. The brain sends messages to every organ, every part of your body through the spinal column which in turn is protected by the spine. If there is an interference with any of the nerves, then that communication is hindered. Just like crimping a garden hose, the water can’t come out.”

She added that fresh air, sunshine and exercise can have a tremendous [positive] impact on depression.

“Too many doctors are quick to prescribe anti-depressants, especially to young people,” she said. “That can lead to a lifetime of drug dependency and often leads to serious addictions to dangerous illegal substances. I’ve seen it happen too many times.”

Falk, who takes insulin twice a day for Type 1 diabetes, is quick to point out that medication is sometimes necessary.

“If it weren’t for that insulin I wouldn’t be alive,” she said. “Of course, I manage myself with diet and exercise as well and keep my blood sugar in tight control to keep complications at bay. Our medical system is really, really good at dealing with emergency situations. The best really. Chronic illness is a completely different story.”

What about the societal implications of such widespread medication, especially in young people? They will be taking the reins of leadership one day soon.

“For our future, I think we all want our leaders to be happy and healthy. Truly healthy. If we have leaders who are dependent on pharmaceuticals that can cause multiple other problems, then that doesn’t make me feel very secure personally. I don’t know about you.”

And finally, one of the roles of a church is to serve others and to minister to folks who might be suffering. We reached out to Trey Kelly, lead pastor of Wellspring Church in Myrtle Beach [www.wellspringchurch.tv ] for his take on the issue of medicated youth.

“I think many people are looking for peace in their storm of anxiety,” he said. “We have always wanted peace and we were designed for peace. For some, medication is just the newest way to achieve some temporary peace, but it rarely lasts. For some, medication seems to help, but for those that don’t actually need it, I feel it does more harm than good.”

When we asked Kelly if he feels that the current crop of young adults is overmedicated, he told us that since he is not a doctor, he didn’t feel that he was qualified to answer that question.

But as a pastor, Kelly works for the Great Physician.

“What I can say is that the anxiety level seems to be increasing in every generation, and that’s not a healthy trend. One of my goals as a pastor is to help people understand that a relationship with Jesus Christ is the source of true peace and satisfaction and the best cure for anxiety.”

And although Kelly obviously teaches about anxiety and other issues from a Biblical standpoint, he cites gratitude as an effective tonic as well.

He said he believes that some people on medication need to be on medication, “but for the ones using medication as a way to simply cope with their anxieties instead of dealing with them properly, the implications are far-reaching. It’s our job as leaders to speak honestly about this and provide more helpful, hopeful solutions like I’ve already mentioned. Lasting peace, in my opinion, is only found in a growing relationship with Jesus. We were literally created for that very purpose and our souls cannot find the rest it seeks apart from Him.”

But he said medication has its place.

“Chemical problems often require a chemical solution. It’s when the medication becomes a means of escaping one’s reality rather than dealing with it that I think a problem arises,” he said.

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