The High Fliers: Uptown Pill-Poppers Struggle to Hide Excesses From the Kids

Isn't That Rich columnist Richard Kirshenbaum explores casual drug use among Manhattan's elite.

(Illustration by Eiko Ojala)
(Illustration by Eiko Ojala)

Spring break found us fleeing Manhattan for the glorious Los Angelino sunshine, palm trees and Alfresco lunches by the Beverly Hills Hotel pool. We were ensconced in the famed Howard Hughes bungalow, which I am sure has withstood its own share of vibrations over the years. Still, nothing prepared us for the 4.9 earthquake that interrupted our reverie and shook us out of bed at 6:30 a.m. Like a fool I called the front desk for confirmation. “Yes, Mr. Kirshenbaum. That was indeed an earthquake.”  

The next day, after a sleepless night, we ran into myriad New York families all on spring break, having McCarthy salads by the pool, fiddling with the romaine and cheddar. “Aftershocks can be worse than the quake,” I worried aloud to anyone who would listen.

“Don’t worry,” my friend’s platinum blonde wife said retrieving her pillbox, implants immoveable in her string bikini top.  As her toddlers pranced about, she opened what seemed like a veritable pharmacy in her designer clutch.

“A little XANY will do you good,” she said, picking around in the compartments. “Let’s see, I have Valium, Xanax. Oh those are the anti-depressants. Wait are those the Klonopin or the Zoloft…?” she pondered. 

“A cosmo and Molly and you won’t remember a thing,” she offered. “Even if the big one comes.”

Having grown up in the “Just Say No” generation, afflicted by fear, guilt and propaganda, it’s strange to see so many New York parents smoking, popping and snorting as soon as their kids are counting sheep.

“It’s the ’80s again,” a good friend said at a recent party, inhaling a funny cigarette and passing it along. 

“Why’s that?” I said, taking in the duplex transformed into a dance party.

She gesticulated above the din and deejay spinning electronic dance music. “Let’s say you’re at a party and it’s a five. By smoking or drinking you already elevate it to a six or a seven. Time is valuable. All I have to say is: elevate your party level for better times, baaaby.” 

“Well, they certainly are,” I said pointing to two married women (to men) I knew who were gyrating and making out in the corner.

“That’s my point. You don’t feel old, you feel free. You’re having a renaissance,” she toked. “Any downside?” I said, taking a Jell-O shot.

“I haven’t heard any bad reviews,” she shrugged in her vintage Halston halter.

“Honestly, I want to go out there and have a great time. I want to be wasted, entertained. I just want to fly high and have fun. Take the edge off,” she mused.

“The cause for all this fun?” I probed like a proctologist.

“It’s a midlife crisis. Lots of rich girls doing coke, Mollys and edibles behind their husbands’ backs.”

“And your husband?” I asked, wondering what the straitlaced banker would think.

“We don’t have that kind of relationship,” she said. “I’m honest”


“I said to him, you’re missing out. If you want to go out and have to deal with all these people un-medicated, that’s your issue.”


After i got back from LA, I was catching up with a friend on his family’s ski trip to Aspen.

“How was your trip?” I asked.

“It’s a midlife crisis. Lots of rich girls doing coke, Mollys and edibles behind their husbands’ backs.”

“Half of New York was there,” he said. “It was a crazy party.” 

“How was the skiing?” I asked.

“Everyone is Aspen was high. They were bumping off trees on the mountain like pinball machines. You cannot believe the dispensaries out there. By the end of the trip, the whole town was sold out. People were bringing back the infused gummy candies by the garbage-bag full.”

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“People were eating those gummies like sunflower seeds. They were whacked.

“What do you think about it all?”

“Look,” he said, asking his assistant to bring him a double espresso, “it’s people trying to hang on to their youth. You can get wasted when you’re in your 40s and 50s but it’s kind of sad when you see people in their 60s who are sloppy.  So you might as well do it while you’ve still got it going on.”


Our first weekend back from the left coast saw us at a dinner party in an elegant Normandy pile in Greenwich. It was a well-heeled and conservative crowd, which prompted me to ponder whether drug usage had made its way to suburbia. My dinner partner, a vivacious and convivial gal, seemed taken aback by my line of questioning.

“No. None of my friends do drugs here,” she said with distaste. “They only drink. I think New York is just a faster crowd.” She said, eyeing me suspiciously as she took a spoonful of crème brûlée.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you and ask if you were partaking. It’s just that I am writing an article.”

“Yes, I’ve read some of your pieces. You seem to know the most ridiculous people.”

“That I do,” I smiled.

“Wait,” she turned to me in a discreet fashion, as if offering up the tidbit like a peace sign. “I think I have something for you. Do you know how all these women stay so thin?” she whispered, as if giving up the secret location to the Maltese falcon.

“How?” I leaned in.

“They take their children’s ADD medication. It’s all speed, suppresses the appetite.”


“I was sober for a decade,” a fellow charity board member and fairly new acquaintance revealed over lunch at Bill’s. “My drinking was honestly the cause of my first divorce.”


“I’ve also been married multiple times. Runs in the family.” 

He asked the waiter for a whiskey, neat. “My mother was an artist, a socialite, an alcoholic and honestly a drug addict. I was shipped off to a different boarding school with each new husband. That said, she  had great style.”

“All those schools,” I sympathized. “That must have been difficult.” 

“It’s all a blur between the beer and the bong hits.”

“Do you and your friends still do drugs?” 

“Well, everyone on the North Shore and in Palm Beach is friendly with the drink. Drinking is part of the culture—cocktails before dinner, roadies at the (uber-exclusive North Shore golf club), bloodies at (the fortress-like Palm Beach private club).”

“So no drugs?”

“Let’s just say I’m trying to teach myself to do coke more. I bought a spoon”

“Teach yourself? Why?”

“I’ve gained so much weight from the beer and vodka, I’m starting to resemble a keg.”

The next week, I met a golf buddy at Sant Ambroeus for a fluffy egg-white omelette and espresso. As we were catching up, he said that his 12-year-old son had walked into the apartment unannounced and smelled the marijuana.

“That’s not cigarette smoke. Is that what I think it is? That’s illegal Dad!!!” 

My friend tried to explain that adults sometimes relax in other ways. 

“Who are you buying this from?” the son lectured. “These are bad people. Dad, do you want to go to JAIL?” he pleaded.

A similar story was relayed to me as well when a friend’s daughter came home early and caught my friend, a conservative Madison Avenue private equity guy, smoking weed. The daughter shrieked, “Dad, what are you doing? ” The father turned white and said—and I quote: “It’s not mine, I’m just holding it for a friend.”

The digital landscape has transformed everything from book and food delivery to drug delivery.

“In college I used to have to go to some grungy park and meet ‘the guy’,” said one of New York’s high fliers. “Now it’s just a text away. It’s like when I first moved to New York and I could order in moo shu chicken. I thought having a doorman and ordering in takeout was the ultimate luxury. Now I’m getting the weed delivered to my doorstep. It’s the next level of delivery!”

“I felt that way about Fresh Direct a few years back,” the wife interjected “and our dealer is very stylish. You should see, he’s all in Dolce. In fact, I asked him where he got his blazer and told him to pick one up for Mark [not his real name] in a size 42.”

“Oh, I love that blazer. I didn’t realize it was from Yves [not his real name].

“Now he’s adding personal shopping as an extra service,” she said admiringly.


“I have a different theory,” the respected Uptown therapist revealed in his office. Why do they all love Danish Modern furniture with nubby fabric? I wondered. 

“There’s an enormous amount of social pressure in New York City. To be thin, to be beautiful, to be rich and successful.” He stroked his Freudian goatee. “There’s a term ‘relative deprivation?’”

“It’s all a blur between the beer and the bong hits.”


“You may have it all but you are relatively deprived to someone who has much more than you have. And then it’s about appearances.”

“I call it the press release,” I offered. “Don’t forget everyone has perfect children as well who are all geniuses and savants.

“With all this pressure, the drugs, drinking and partying are the pressure valves. The more pressure, the more need for release.”

“Perhaps that’s why it’s happening more in New York City?”

“It is undeniable that it is more stressful in the city. When you’re doing drugs you forget your problems. I see a lot of wives doing drugs to escape their husbands’ reduced bonuses.”

“Sounds like high school all over again.”

“Yes.  Even down to the rich popular kids. Only now they’re parents.”


Just this week I woke up in wrenching pain and headed to the dentist. 

“You have a fractured tooth and it needs to come out. Most likely you’ll need an implant.”

I always say toothache is as bad as heartache, but not nearly as romantic.

“Give me every painkiller you have,” I begged. “I also have a business function at six I have to attend.” First, came the Novocain, then the crushed Triazolam, then the gas. Two hours later I awoke, numb and swollen and still flying.

“I have one question,” I asked the staff as they helped me to the waiting room. “Do you think it’s okay if I make the cocktails? I have a few people I want to see.”

“I think it’s okay but don’t overdo it,” they stressed.

Dana was in the waiting room and steadied me to the car.

“I really think we need to go home,” she said.

“Absolutely not,” I protested, even though I was a bit unsteady. “I feel great.”

When we got to the Lever House we entered the party, Dana holding me by the elbow.

“Hi Richard. So good to see you,” the socialite said, “you look amazing. So relaxed.”

It’s true,” the editor agreed. “He looks ten years younger. No frown lines.”

What would have been a nice but obligatory cocktail party seemed to pass in a flash with laughs and effervescent conversation. Indeed, I had elevated my party level.

That is, of course, all was said and done until I woke up bleary-eyed, the next morning.

“Daaaad,” my teenage son tugged at my blanket, as I lay supine in bed. “I really think you need to stay in this evening and get some rest. Enough is enough.” 

The High Fliers: Uptown Pill-Poppers Struggle to Hide Excesses From the Kids