Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What do Ian Kinsler and Andres Torres have in common?

1. Both are major league baseball players.  Kinsler is an All-Star 2nd baseman for the Texas Rangers, and Torres is a speedy outfielder who often leads off for the Giants.

2. Both have ADHD and take medication to treat it.

3. Both have (reportedly) attributed their major league success in part to their use of medication.

Amphetamines are illegal in baseball.  This was done mostly for player safety reasons, PR reasons, and in the interest of fairness.  Steroids were banned for similar reasons, and we all know how prohibitive the current climate for steroid and PED use is in baseball.  But some amphetamines aren't illegal for some players.

I've found no shortage of articles and book citations detailing the alarming ubiquity of "greenies" in clubhouses since the '70's.  Some prevalence estimates put stimulant use way above steroids, yet steroids seemed to get all the bad press: the Mitchell Report, McGwire, Bonds, Conseco, Palmero, BALCO, Roger Clemens still lying right now ... all that bad stuff.  Steroids also got all the credit for the great home run race of 1998.  As if better talent, advancements in technology, training, and ... other stuff, had nothing to do with it.

The last thing I want to do is say that one drug is more ethical than another in baseball.  To qualify that, you'd need to know whether one was more or less helpful, and therefore perhaps, more or less unfair to use illicitly.  I've never juiced up or tweaked out and stepped into the batting cages so I can't say from firsthand experience, but let's just say they both impart some advantage to the user.

[Interestingly, according to the MLB/players-union agreement, the two substances have different penalty scales for repeat offenders, with amphetamines getting lighter sanctions: 50 games, then 100, before you're third strike and lifetime ban for steroids; with amphetamines you get a mulligan on your first offense, then 25, 80, then additional punishment including a lifetime ban).]

And I don't want to get professional athletes in trouble if they in fact do have legitimate affective disorders where medication is prescribed.  (Especially Torres, who just jacked a decisive home run against the Rockies tonight for my San Francisco Giants in the midst of a playoff push).

But isn't there clearly a double-standard here?

The reason why Torres and Kinsler are allowed to use Adderall—a banned amphetamine medication—is because of the MLB's "Therapeutic Exemption Clause."  The ban seems to have been enforced (or possibly merely amended) in 2006.  At that time, according to USA Today, there were 35 exemption clauses, of which 28 were for ADHD medications.  Today there are 111 players playing with exemptions, and 103 are for ADHD.

My work says that students are often doing what people already suspect: faking ADD/ADHD to get drugs that help them perform.


The Kinsler tip comes from my brother Mike's Pa Carl, who is an avid Ranger fan.  I was watching the Giants game at home on 8-13 and Kruk' and Kuip's field broadcaster cut in to deliver the following: "Andres Torres was a track star in Puerto Rico, and says it took him a while to develop as a hitter, but there's another reason why he got it going late: he was diagnosed with ADD in 2002, but didn't start taking medication until 2007 during his 2nd stint with the Tigers organization ..."

Looking at Torres' career stats, the highest he batted was .220 (168 at-bats in 59 games in 2003) from there it looks like he struggled in 2004, went to, hmmm, Texas, got sent down to the minors for a couple years before coming to the Giants in 2009 where he batted .270.  This year he's .284.

For guys like this, it's possible ritalin can make or save your career.  Torres' 2010 salary is $428,000.  And all you have to do is tell a doctor you can't concentrate?  Who wouldn't do that?

Monday, August 16, 2010

8-14: Getting up to speed

Okay, this is long overdue, and much has happened since I ruminated wordily about iPods ... I mean like, my droid win has never looked cooler, the Giants are poised for a postseason push, and would you believe that Don Draper?

I'm just kidding, I have done some work on my dissertation since I moved back to Palo Alto.  I throw grant money at transcribers as soon as I can process and account for them.  I'm reading lots of articles, I've given Endnote (bibliographic software) another chance to impress me.  But yes, it's still summer, so I've also been watching my share of Jersey Shore and many of those articles come from things that likely won't make my bibliography.

Mostly, I want this blog to get back closer to live.  So about that "Dissertation Boot Camp" I enrolled in a month ago?  Had to drop out.  Moving got to be a little more hectic than I thought it would—and truthfully—I made more out of my last weeks in LA that way.  Plus the class was intended for dissertators who are a little farther along than me.  No problem.

But also no excuses to not get started myself.  Well ... one.  I'm still working for the Office of Residential Life as a researcher for the rest of the month.  For now, I'm organizing myself, taking lots of notes, piling through old notebooks, sorting post-its with crazy, random, vaguely drug-related ideas, that are just crazy enough to maaaaybe fit in my dissertation somewhere.

Actual examples:

- What if Batman needed Ritalin?
- Ross.0 presents: Weed vs. Salvia: the drug policy challenge.
- How ADHD meds made Ian Kinsler (Texas Rangers) and Andres Torres (S.F. Giants) into awesome baseball players.
- Stimulants, economic stimulus, and Terran stim-packs in Starcraft 2.

I'll admit, I ran out of steam a little on some of those, but those are actual posts that represent actual pieces in development.  So get excited, I have a shit-ton of drug related thoughts to blog about.

Working on: what I call two-a-days: reading two articles a day, processing two transcripts per day, and recording two cases per day from this survey on treatment-seeking prescription drug users (interesting stuff, way more hard core than my own research).  All while finishing my job.

Listening to: a "dissertating mix" on iTunes.  It is 2.3 days long, and won't fit on any of my aforementioned iPods.  I also saw Arcade Fire on the Daily Show—I thought it was a rerun since Jon Stewart didn't have his beard anymore—the second song sounded awesome, and I liked their last two albums ... anybody have that one yet?  Is it good?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On dependency and iPods

I just conducted what may be my last interview, and I can already tell that dependency is going to be a central theme. Some students are very concerned about becoming dependent on drugs in order to succeed in college. This last student interview was one of them.

He was a 4th-year student, never had his own prescription for Adderall, and he doesn't have ADD or anything ostensibly wrong with him (except for a family history of heart conditions—one factor in his self-imposed moderation of prescription stimulants). But he did take Adderall during every finals since the middle of his freshman year. And it helped quite a bit. Studying was more fun for him, he could do more, faster, it even livened up the boring stuff. Now he's trying to study for the MCAT without Adderall, and he's clearly a bit rattled about the prospect. Maybe he's studied for so long, so successfully with meds, that it's unsettling to think about studying without them.

That's an example of dependence, and in this exact context, it's one thing I expected to find at the outset. However, if you really think about what dependence is in a more holistic sense, it's far more common. It can also be rituals, routines, preparation, habits—ultimately it’s about comfort, and doing the things that we think are going to make us at our best.

After thinking about it more, for me, this summer, it's also been about my iPod shuffle.

Being from Palo Alto, I've always used Macs and generally loved Apple products. I go through iPods like Post-Its, and my favorite, by far, is the shuffle. Not the one that looked like a stick of gum (first-gen), nor the one that looks like a smaller stick of gum and tells you what song you’re listening to (third-gen … I mean, c’mon, of course I know what song is playing and who it’s by, I put it there). The second-generation shuffle is the best: it's tiny, durable, it doesn’t call out your songs like a robot DJ, it clips to anything, and holds enough songs and has enough battery life to last through a 22 hour hike of Mt. Whitney (yeah, that shit happened). It works well for workouts, running, and in a pinch, I'd grab it over my iPod touch (the one that's basically an iPhone without the phone) just to stroll around campus without worrying about breaking something so comparatively expensive and fragile.

I don’t workout without tunes. I can only take so much Ke$ha and Black Eyed Peas. My own mix makes running and working out tolerable. I’m dependent on tunes at the gym and track. Swimming has historically been trickier for me.

Just like that student hated doing problem sets (but felt compelled to do them anyway), I hate swimming. Yes, I played water polo, but A: I was a goalie, and B: it's easier when you've got teammates and/or coach pushing you. Otherwise, swimming kind of sucks. Water polo is to swimming, as basketball or soccer are to running—with a ball, strategy, goals, teammates and other variables, those sports are (to me anyway) more stimulating. Running by itself can be incredibly boring. But not if I have a soundtrack ...

Sometime in college, and with the advent of ever-smaller digital audio devices (remember the "Rio" mp3 player?), running actually became fun as long as I had Daft Punk, The Pharcyde, et al. in a small, shock-proof device. Waterproof audio was much more primitive then, but I experimented briefly with a Speedo waterproof FM radio that attached to my goggle strap. It was a fail. Swimming to KROQ commercials was almost as bad as a Nickelback block. The goal was to make swimming more tolerable, and breaststroking to NPR didn't cut it either.

Later, about a couple years ago, I found a waterproof case for my beloved 2nd-gen iPod shuffle (H2O Audio, if curious). At last, could this finally be the thing that would make swimming fun? Even if it was a $60 plastic gimmick or psychological token—even if the underwater audio quality was crappy and it made me less hydrodynamic—even if it looked dorky (it did), it was all worth it just to have Radiohead, or, pun-intended, The Strokes.

I swam for about 3 years, bringing the waterproof shuffle case everywhere I go. Sometimes on my way to the pool, I’ll realize I forgot the shuffle, or the case, and actually turn my car around to go back and get one or the other (or both). Sure, I could swim without them, and sure, I have, but it's not as fun, and honestly, I probably didn't swim as long or as hard without it.

Flash forward to this summer: my roommates and I are moving out of our place. Like running and swimming, moving can physically suck, punctuated by periods of boredom. Preloaded with the "workout mix" I went for the shuffle for aforementioned lightness, durability, and because moving is indeed a workout. Just before we needed to return our washer and dryer, the three of us scrambled to do one last load of laundry and I didn't think twice about throwing in my shorts which—sadly—contained my beloved iPod shuffle in its cargo pocket. Ironic that in years of swim use, my shuffle would die from water damage in a heavy cycle.

The 2nd-gen shuffle had since been discontinued, and waterproof cases hadn't yet been developed for the 3rd generation model (and likely won't, seeing as Apple moved track and volume controls from the device to the earphone cable—thus making it harder and more expensive 3rd-party companies to develop iPod earphones/accessories). Since I already had the case—and preferred the older model anyway—I hit up Amazon and eBay to await its replacement.

While I waited however, I noticed an interesting thing about my behavior: I didn't swim as much. Sure I'd go to the pool or beach to lay out or whatever, but since losing my iPod shuffle about a month ago, I think about running or the gym instead of the pool, just because it's become so important to me to have my music while I do it. The internal dialogue goes something like "well, I could swim, but it wouldn't be as fun—I should wait for the new shuffle for that, let's hoop."

It's not that I can't swim without it, but I've become so used to swimming with tunes, it's hard to motivate myself to do laps without a soundtrack. Maybe that's sad. Maybe if I never got used to it in the first place I wouldn't be so spoiled. Maybe I could ween myself off of it, or hum Postal Service tracks in my head instead.

But I choose not to. And I chose not to. I didn’t swim until my new used shuffle came in the mail. And isn’t that dependence?

Think about this more. Do you take supplements or multivitamins because you need to or because it’s routing and makes you feel better? What about wearing your favorite outfit before going out? I once read that Wade Boggs of the Boston Red Sox ate a whole chicken before each game (will investigate this one). Do Notre Dame football players have to slap that sign “Play Like a Champion Today?” Would they be any more likely to lose if that sign went missing?

Sometimes this seems like a fine line between rituals, compulsiveness, and an acknowledged disorder like OCD. I think I’ve made this point, and will revisit it somehow in this dissertation.

In the meanwhile, I need a break and could really go for a trip to the gym. I know my iPod is here somewhere …

Working on: Moving home to Palo Alto.