Weighing in on the Park Bom controversy

There are two reasons I’m writing this. The first reason, I’ll talk about a little later. The second reason is that I had trouble finding articles that explained the situation in a way that made sense to me. I don’t dislike Park Bom or 2NE1, but I’m not an active fan of either. Still, I think that some of the articles available in English about Park Bom’s “smuggling” issue use weighted, confusing, and stigmatizing language. Like many fans of South Korean TV who live in the US, I’m not Korean and don’t read or speak Korean. (This is one of the reasons I haven’t attempted any recaps yet; I don’t realize certain things are puns, cultural references  or pop-culture parodies, and I think it’s more interesting to read recaps by people who can point those things out.) Anyway, it took me reading several articles and comments about the issue to understand some of the finer points of what had happened.

This is what I understand. Four years ago, Park Bom, who spent a large part of her life in the US, received what is an illegal medication in Korea through the mail. She was investigated for drug smuggling but her case was suspended because she had a prescription in the US and was aware the drug was not available in Korea but didn’t understand it was illegal there. When this issue came out, a statement was written by her company president explaining that Park Bom had problems with depression, and she’d tried going without the medicine but found that other medications didn’t help her as much.

I’m not pretending I know anything about why she received the medication, whether she really was planning to use it to control a medical condition, or whether privilege played any part in her not being prosecuted. I do, however, think that many people who read articles are jumping to conclusions based on not having all the information.

The Name

The articles I read say that Park Bom was shipped 82 pills of “amphetamine.” This sounds pretty damning even if you live in a country where these pills are prescribed, because the only context one tends to hear amphetamine mentioned in is talking about illegal drugs like Speed and Meth-Amphetamine. I don’t know if people realize how many legal medications there are that share chemical features with illegal drugs, but there are tons. I once failed an employment drug test because I tested positive for barbiturates: it turned out to be my seizure medication, Phenobarbital, which is a barbiturate but is used legally as an anti-epileptic. So I think it would be better to be specific: she was sent Adderall, also known as amphetamine salts, which is available by prescription in the US.

The Use

Adderall is a commonly abused drug. It can help you stay up longer, focus longer, and lose weight, and therefore is a common “study drug.” Many have suggested that Park Bom receiving 82 pills is a clue that she was abusing the medication. Also, if you go the Wikipedia page, it will tell you in the first few sentences that Adderall is prescribed for ADHD and Narcolepsy, mentioning nothing about depression. Well, the second reason I’m writing this article is that I’m prescribed Adderall. I take a middle of the range dose, NOT the highest, and my monthly prescription is 60 pills. ( I take two a day. The dose is usually increased by increasing the number of times the pill is taken per day.) I do take it for ADD, but it is also a key part in controlling my medication resistant depression. This is a common off-label use for Adderall which you can find listed on any site that describes medications in detail. Before taking Adderall, my depression medicine helped but not as much as I needed it too. After, it was much more effective, and my doctor and I even experimented with going off the depression medicine entirely.

Getting Medicine from the US

The idea of getting medication shipped through the mail is also something that sounds weird. I have never been to South Korea. I can say that right off the bat. I also hate commenting on the culture or mindset of a country I’m not from. It makes my skin crawl. However, I can say that when I was researching teaching English abroad from the standpoint of someone who takes psychiatric medication, most of the recommendations were to go off medicines while applying for residency because if these medicines were found during the physical examination you would be denied. This doesn’t apply to Park Bom, but it does suggest that there is a strong stigma against mental illness. This isn’t surprising: there’s a strong stigma against mental illness in the US, probably stronger than most people realize because they don’t have to think of it it often. If you wanted to make sure your illness stayed private, another common recommendation from people on these boards was to, instead of finding a psychiatrist in South Korea, get certain medication shipped through the mail. My only point here is that what happened in Park Bom’s case is probably not an isolated incident.


I don’t really have a fancy “in conclusion” paragraph planned. I’m surprised I’ve written so much already. I have not tried to present my opinion as facts, but just clarify some things.

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