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Visualizing Adderall

Taz Karim (PhD Candidate, Anthropology) Related

From vitamins to painkillers to psychotropic drugs, consuming pills has become a normalized and even expected part of life for many Americans. In 2010, US pharmaceutical sales topped $300 billion dollars and continue to be one of the most profitable industries in the nation. This unprecedented incorporation of prescription drugs into daily life has been referred to by Anthropologists as “pharmaceuticalization” – a complex process that is reshaping the way we think about our health, our bodies, our relationships, and our own identities.

The Visualizing Adderall project is designed to explore and understand the dynamic ways pharmaceuticals are understood and integrated into everyday American culture. As its name suggests, the project is focused specifically on prescription stimulants used to treat the symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This includes brands like Adderall, Vyvanse, Concerta, Focalin, etc. which are commonly prescribed to adults who suffer from this condition. While these pharmaceuticals serve as effective medications for many patients, they have also assumed alternative identities as recreational drugs and most notably, as “study aids” for college students. Non-medical users claim that drugs like Adderall provide them the energy, motivation and focus needed to complete academic work. Despite the medical and legal risks involved with unsupervised use of these drugs, prevalence rates have been recorded as high as 35% and continue to grow.

Although Adderall is an inanimate object, it does not exist in a vacuum. It operates in biomedical, social, and academic worlds and as a result, takes on multiple meanings in American Culture.

Pharmaceuticalization, and in particular, the normalization of Adderall use among college students is a topic of significant interest among scholar, educators, scientists, healthcare professionals and the general public. Each stakeholder is interested in a different part of the drug behavior: prevalence rates, impacts on cognitive function, medical side effects, expectations of performance, etc. However in order to truly understand Adderall’s role in the modern society, it is important to consider all of these facets concurrently. Thus, one of the biggest obstacles to understanding the social life is Adderall is being able to capture its complexity through any one set of data.

Additionally, the ways in which Americans understand and exchange information about pharmaceuticals like Adderall are changing rapidly. In particular, students are relying on pharmaceutical advertising, internet forums, discussion boards, and social media as mediums to interpret and share their own pharmaceutical experiences.

To address these issues, Visualizing Adderral’s main foucs is a suite of data visualizations, including interactive maps displaying the geo-location of Adderall-centered tweets, data based timelines of adderall scandals in professional sports, and data driven charts of adderall focused language in social media such as Instagram. Ultimately, the goal of the visualizations are to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the social life of the drug.

Beyond the immediate focus on Adderall, the project is intended to be a platform to explore any number of pharmaceuticals or medical technologies. Once could easily imagine it being applied to anything from birth control pills to marijuana. As a result, Visualizing Adderall has significant potential in helping Americans comprehensively view the social lives of medical objects and access multiple forms of data in one centralized location.