As midterms approached on the SMU campus, as the dual stenches of Red Bull and coffee drifted through university libraries and the bars fell quiet, Jennifer, clad in an oversized sweatshirt and yoga pants, looked like an average college student cramming for midterms.
Yet, as she sat at her usual table in a study room in SMU's Fondren Library, she held what many students consider the key to a successful test season -- if, that is, they are willing to meet her price. They usually are.
Jennifer is a campus Adderall dealer. And in the time of a nationwide shortage of the prescription stimulant, she's in a seller's market.
"On our first reading day, I had already received at least five texts with people wanting to buy a few," said Jennifer, who spoke to Unfair Park on condition we didn't use her real name. "Midterms and finals are always good for business."
For students who need it, Adderall, a popular medicine used to treat attention deficit disorder, is a game-changer and grade-changer. For students who just want it, it's part study aid and part low-rent party drug.
"Students crush it up and snort it like anything else," Jennifer said. "I've watched people blow it off a table in the library as a quick up before an exam. And, some people do it before going out instead of cocaine because it's cheaper."
Jennifer was prescribed the little blue pill during her junior year of high school. She's been selling her surplus pills for nearly four years. It's an added bonus for splurging on the weekends -- a new silk top, that clutch she's been eying for months or an elegant dinner with her girls. Her parents, oblivious to her drug deals, fill her bank account monthly, and she can rely on another good $100 a week from babysitting.
At the end of 2011, during finals weeks, pharmacies across the nation struggled to fill prescriptions thanks to limits set by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which establishes annual quotas for controlled substances used in certain prescription drugs.
Drug-makers claim they cannot meet the demand for the growing number of prescriptions without an increase in limits from the DEA. The DEA counters that the supply problem is being exacerbated by pharmaceutical companies, who are devoting more of their quota for Adderall's precursor chemical toward pricier, branded versions of the drug and away from lower-cost generic versions.
There are no hard statistics for how many college students use Adderall, but more than 18 million prescriptions were written for the drug in 2010, an increase of 13 percent from the year before, according to IMS Health, a health-care information and technology company. But those who don't have a prescription may be responsible for the shortage, according to pharmacists, by increasing demand beyond the DEA's supply limits.
Which is why, in December, as students with prescriptions went searching for pharmacies that still had the drug in stock, students without Adderall prescriptions began to panic. "It's something I need and can usually get easily," one student said. "But during finals it was nearly impossible to fill my prescription."
Jennifer came up short in December too, as her pharmacy could not fill her prescription. Walgreens told her she could get a "partial," which means only half her prescription could be filled. But with demand so high, she knew she could increase her prices. For her 10 milligram pills, her prices rose $3, to $5 each -- more than double what she pays for each pill from Walgreens. Though prices differ among states, a 10 milligram pill on average costs $1.50.
Despite her own low supply, Jennifer made about $300 during finals week alone. "Everyone wants Adderall around Christmas because during finals you really need it," Jennifer said. "When everyone is trying to get it but can't, they look somewhere else. And, that is where I come in."
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"The price increase was annoying," another student said, "but it wasn't going to stop me from buying it. If the price goes above $8, I would consider switching suppliers." Another student said she bought extra in September, "to avoid the rush during finals. I'm always thinking ahead. I have a small supply for this semester in case the shortage lasts until May."
Jennifer's second-semester business slowed some -- partly, she said, because much of her customer base was taking easier classes after landing internships for the semester. Two months later, with midterms just around the corner and students still scrambling for pills, Jennifer expected to see another jump in demand. She also expects to sell more at finals when students have bombed midterms and are relying on an A to bump their grades to a B- or higher.
And, the shortage will still play into her hands: A few months into the new year, pharmacists say they cannot meet the demands for the growing number of prescriptions.
"I'm keeping my prices high because I am in college and could use the money and because no one likes a fluctuating market," she said. "There is still a demand, and I never know when I'll need my own Adderall and won't be able to get it."