From Insider: “The first Adderall ad appeared in my Instagram feed during the height of pandemic isolation. I thought the slick 30-second video promising me a ‘super easy’ way to get ADHD medication was another gimmick. But after the algorithm pushed a few more plugs my way, I started to get curious. The drugs, to my surprise, were real. Unlike countless sketchy ads for black-market supplements, Cerebral, the then-hot telehealth startup behind the ads, offered a legal path to prescription medications.
It was indeed a ‘super easy’ path — too easy. My intake process to get prescribed a potentially addictive amphetamine turned out to be easier than getting Taylor Swift tickets or an appointment with my primary-care physician. Even as I doubted that I met the clinical criteria for ADHD, I could honestly answer the vague, brief self-assessment (e.g., ‘How often do you have difficulty paying attention when you are doing boring or repetitive work?’) and receive the same result as tens of thousands of AI-targeted customers: ‘You have some symptoms consistent with ADHD. We suggest further evaluation.’ When I spoke to a Cerebral nurse practitioner for all of 13 minutes, the experience was much the same. Answering that, yes, my concentration was strained in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic got me an official diagnosis and prescription. Like its many telehealth competitors, including Done, Klarity, adhdonline.com, and Circle Medical, Cerebral could peddle, prescribe, and postmark a package of Adderall for me while I never left the couch.
A new breed of direct-to-consumer services is aggressively using targeted ads to sell habit-forming medications. Not only do these companies make it easier for those seeking recreational drugs to access them, they’re also poised to inundate and threaten the sobriety of people in recovery. And unlike a typical prescriber who might interrogate answers to assess genuine need, some of these firms appear to be designed to remove every possible barrier.
In short, AI and surveillance capitalism, which empower today’s targeted ads, have joined forces with the deadly OxyContin playbook. But unlike the opioid crisis of the early 2000s, advertisers today have much more data and far more precise tools to push prescriptions, and our privacy laws haven’t even tried to keep up. Without intervention, another public-health catastrophe looms.”
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