Netflix’s new documentary Take Your Pills, which debuted at SXSW and started streaming on Friday, is brimming with facts about the pervasiveness of focus-boosting drugs: that prescription stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta comprise a $13 billion pharmaceutical market; that while ADD and ADHD are typically associated with youth, adults make up more than 50% of those prescribed; or that the fastest growing population of users is women in their 20s, to name a few.
As widespread as the societal pressures illustrated by these stats may be, there may be no mother-daughter duo more acquainted with them than the one behind Take Your Pills, which was co-produced by Christina Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. Besides belonging to one of the nation’s most high profile—and scrutinized—families, both have also felt the impact of focus-enhancing drugs—Schwarzenegger as a one-time habitual user of doctor-prescribed Adderall, and Shriver as the parent of a medicated child—not to mention as a seasoned medical reporter and women’s health advocate.
But while young female millennials—such as the host of college-age women providing testimonial in the film—may represent a growing swath of stimulant users, Shriver stresses that the issue spans demographics. “The film shows the breadth of this drug; from middle school and high school to Wall Street and the Silicon Valley culture,” Shriver says, “There isn’t an industry around today where people aren’t discussing [it]. Even moms who are trying to keep up with everything they’re doing, are turning to this drug because they feel they can’t keep up without it.”
Schwarzenegger, a recent Georgetown graduate, felt that dependence firsthand. “And after graduating from college, like many people, I’d been taking it for years and couldn’t imagine a life without it,” Schwarzenegger says. “So I ended up going off of it, and had to pretty much figure out a new identity, in my opinion, and find who I was as a person not on Adderall.” A communications major, Schwarzenegger was motivated to share her story after she found a dearth of resources for those weaning off amphetamines—which have been packaged for some form of public consumption since 1932. “I wasn’t finding any information. That’s why I had the idea to create something to spark a conversation,” says Schwarzenegger.
To ignite that spark, she and Shriver linked up with documentarian Alison Klayman, who, while she received high marks for her 2012 film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, had little knowledge of cognition-enhancing drugs prior to Take Your Pills. “I sort of knew it was out there in the ether. It was around when I was in college, but it wasn’t something that was talked about very much,” she says. While she weaves in the drug’s historical context (for example, it rose to popularity through jazz musicians and writers in the 1920s), Klayman says her primary goal for the film is to dispel the many medical and cultural myths surrounding it. “If you think this is a story about hyperactive kids,” says Klayman, “this film will change your mind about that.”