When the US Food and Drug Administration confirmed a shortage of the drug Adderall last month, many people who depend on the drug weren’t surprised: They’ve been struggling to fill their prescriptions for months.
The FDA says the shortage is expected to continue for another 30 to 60 days. This is happening in part due to increasing demand for Adderall and temporary manufacturing delays at Teva Pharmaceuticals, one of the leading makers of the drug, which is primarily used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Amidst this increased demand, other manufacturers are also suffering from shortages.
It’s a problem affecting a growing number of Americans.
A report by data analytics firm Trilliant Health found that Adderall prescriptions for people ages 22 to 44 nationwide increased 15% between 2020 and 2021. There was also a slight increase in prescriptions among people aged 45 and over.
dr David Goodman, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said his patients have had to wait several days to fill their prescriptions in recent months. Recently they have to wait up to a week or two. Some were even told pharmacies might not see new supplies for months.
Not having access to Adderall, which must be taken daily, can impact careers, personal life and even security, Goodman said.
“This may be due to the difference between stopping at a red light and running a red light because you were distracted,” he said.
At home, this can mean being a less attentive member of the family, unable to regulate your emotions, and feeling more irritable, leading to conflict. At work, this can lead to increased impulsiveness and tardiness, making the person appear like an unreliable worker.
“I’ve had patients call 10, 15, 20 pharmacies to get their medication,” Goodman said. “Now imagine you’re on the phone frantically looking for the medicine you need, and pharmacy after pharmacy after pharmacy tells you they either can’t tell you or don’t have any, and ‘we can’t tell you when we can gonna get it’ and that’s when the panic sets in.”
Over time, these incidents can severely impact a patient’s mental health.
Clara Pitts is what her mother describes as an overachiever. The 17-year-old from Taylorsville, Utah, is a National Merit Scholar and is constantly studying and doing schoolwork.
Without medication, Clara experiences what is known as ADHD paralysis: she may have a long list of things to do and knows she must get through them, but she struggles to stop every other activity she does.
“She’s always trying to fit in,” Rebekah Pitts said. “She has a really detailed spreadsheet online listing everything she needs to do to try and help herself compensate for this, but the difference between turning on [Adderall] and not on that is more of a scale – that it’s easier for them to stay focused.”
Rebekah has called eight local pharmacies on her daughter’s behalf since the FDA announced the shortage, and each one has been empty. She was told Clara could have to wait up to two months to get the medication.
“As a parent, I was surprised at how upset I was,” Rebekah said. “I was crying and it made me just exhausted. At the end of the day I just crashed. I was like, ‘Wow, that really hit me,’ and I think I realized that I’m used to getting medication if I have a prescription. I’ve never tried filling a prescription in my life and I’ve been told you can’t get that anywhere. ”
When CNN spoke to Clara in late October, her prescription bottle had eight pills left, enough for four days. But with college applications looming and senior year stressful, Clara rationed pills for those moments when she needed absolute focus.
“Sometimes my resting heart rate is elevated just sitting down and thinking about my treatments,” Clara said.
Clara is on her way to her doctor to look for an alternative medication until Adderall is back in stock.
Ashley Jordan, 24, of Colorado said she also needs to save her pills for when she needs them most.
She has been taking Teva’s version of Adderall for ADHD for over seven years and was surprised to find out in August that her pharmacy had given her a different brand without telling her because that was all they had.
However, the new brand was not a good fit. “I got sick and threw up every day taking it,” she said.
Now she’s rationing what few Teva pills she has left.
“I pretty much had to try to get as much done as I could when I was on the pills to not fight without them,” she said, “so I’ve been pretty much on my toes since it happened.”
Mikey DeDona, 22, of Boston, takes Adderall for type 1 narcolepsy. This condition makes it difficult for him to regulate his sleep. It can look like a lot of poor sleep or even insomnia.
It took his pharmacy five days to fill his prescription in late October, and those days were taking their toll.
“It’s just knowing I’m not even going to be 50% all day,” DeDona said.
Without Adderall, DeDona found it much harder to get out of bed and required multiple naps throughout the day. Suddenly stopping the drug also caused headaches and confusion.
“It sucks not being able to do anything against your will,” DeDona said, “you need an immediate reminder of how bad it is without medication.”
He was finally able to fill his prescription last month, but is worried about availability in the coming months as he doesn’t want to try an alternative drug.
Goodman says there are pros and cons to trying different drugs. “The plus is that there is an opportunity here to switch medications and see if there is a subjective improvement in the experience with the medication. … The downside to this is that the stimulants are not equally interchangeable.”
Goodman said new drugs could also bring new side effects, such as trouble sleeping, mood swings and headaches.
Many people who are having trouble finding Adderall in stock are looking for alternatives. Hundreds of social media accounts claim to have the drug available and some people are reaching out to friends who are no longer using the pills prescribed to them.
Goodman warns against it, reminding that it is not only a crime to sell your own prescription drugs, but also to share them with others.
He also stressed that buying pills through social media or retailers is incredibly dangerous.
In October, the US Department of Justice charged 23 people with trafficking counterfeit pills after it seized over 74,000 counterfeit pills – including counterfeit Adderall laced with methamphetamine.
“Remember, if you’re not getting your pills from a doctor and they’re not being given to you by an authorized pharmacy, you’re literally taking control of your life,” Goodman said.