Why was this Philly coffee shop OK normalizing mental health conditions and drug misuse?

A pink neon sign reading “Up All Night on Adderall” hung on the brick wall of Common Grounds, a coffee shop that opened in September on 16th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.The lighted fixture is decorated with either a…

A pink neon sign reading “Up All Night on Adderall” hung on the brick wall of Common Grounds, a coffee shop that opened in September on 16th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.

The lighted fixture is decorated with either a quarter moon or sun, begging to be Instagrammed. On the coffee shop’s Instagram account, the sign shares a feed with an image of a quote attributed to Coco Chanel. 

After facing critics, including myself, a Temple University 2017 alumna who looks to increase awareness for mental health, substance use disorders, and the intersecting factors, Common Grounds plans to take down the sign and change the phrase as of Oct. 23. However, for every “like” the sign desires to collect while it hangs, it represents the misconstrued, insensitive, and contradictory narratives many have about mental health and substance misuse.

Adderall, a highly addictive amphetamine, is used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Because of this stimulant’s performance-enhancing side effects, Adderall has been used for unprescribed purposes for students. One study published in 2008 reported that 5 percent to 35 percent of college-age individuals use stimulant medications for non-prescribed reasons.

I was witness to the acceptance and normalization of stimulants in college culture. I’ve watched peers scramble to find Adderall before an exam, taking it out of fear of failure and subsequently dreading the possibility of making the call to their parents to let them know they’ll be dropping out. I’ve sat in classrooms with students who reminisce on a party the night before spent throwing back a few beers and getting high on Adderall. and coke. It’s a form drug misuse many welcome if you’re still going to end up with the degree.

The light inappropriately shines in a city hit hard by an overdose epidemic. Hospital workers “expect to see 20 to 25” overdoses come into the in a given weekend and reported to have seen that number rocket to 100. The sign chillingly hangs within a five-mile radius of the East Coast’s largest open-air drug market in Kensington. The coffee shop is on the same campus where less than a year ago two students reportedly died from overdoses.

Pretty in pink Adderall is made for seemingly non-harmful, non-prescribed reasons, but for those who take Adderall for a mental health condition or develop a substance use disorder, it’s often not publicized due to stigma.

“I thought no harm of it,” Common Grounds co-founder Shawn Bullard wrote in an email to Philly Weekly. “And I’m someone that’s normally very considerate to views of others. Especially, in this, since I have ADHD but don’t take medicine for it.”

I take medication for mental health reasons, and it’s a common assumption that myself and others who take medication for their mental health to be called names like “crazy” or “unstable” by others.Furthermore, if “Up All Night on Adderall” was followed by “Because I have a substance use disorder,” the shop may be called a “junkie.”

Rates of who gets reprimanded for drug-and alcohol-related situations contrast in North Philadelphia. According to The Appeal, 2.2 percent of on-campus drug and alcohol incidents end in arrests by Temple University Police, in comparison to the 50 percent of the drug- and alcohol-related incidents that end in arrests on the streets off campus.

Common Grounds responded to the sign’s critics in a lengthy, unfocused on Instagram dated Aug. 21 that just picks at the wound, calling the sign a “playful artistic display.” Bullard told PW in an email the sign will be changed to “Up All Night on Coffee” and hopes “people see understand or see we are speaking out or bring awareness to drug abuse.”

Frankly, the simple existence of the sign has normalized substance misuse on college campuses while highlighting the double standards and insensitivity that exist for those with mental health conditions and substance use disorder.

If Common Grounds really wants to bring awareness, the shop could promote recovery housing on campus, hang art done by those with mental health conditions, collect goods for those who are living in addiction in Kensington and/or use the shop’s space to hold meetings and forums to have a conversation about mental health and substance use.  

Going forward, I hope this shop learns what the right awareness looks like for issues that are far too common.

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