published : 2023-08-24

Impending ADHD Drug Shortfall Threatens to Disrupt Back-to-School Season: Widespread Impact Expected

Adderall Scarce; Parents and Teachers Scramble to Explore Non-Drug Options

A worried mother looking at an empty pill bottle, a shadowy school building in the background. Taken with a Nikon D850.

As school bells resound across the country signaling the commencement of a new semester, a looming problem darkens the horizon - a chronic shortage of ADHD medications. This predicament is giving parents and educators of children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder sleepless nights.

Their concerns trace back to October 2022 when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first raised the alarm about a scarcity of ADHD medication. Supplemented by worrying data from SingleCare, an online prescription savings service, it was found that ADHD medication fills for children aged 6 to 17 spiked by 33% in August-September 2022, compared to June-July the same year.

With the onset of the new school term, many of these children may face deprived access to vital medication, creating an intimidating start for the 2023-2024 academic journey. To complicate matters further, while medication shortages are commonly sparked by disturbances in manufacturing, an unprecedented surge in demand is exacerbating this ADHD medication crisis.

Pharmacy and health pundit, Dr. Jennifer Bourgeois from SingleCare, offers an expert perspective on the matter. 'The primary ingredients in ADHD stimulant medications are subject to stringent DEA control,' she explains. 'When pharmaceutical firms aim to escalate production in response to heightened demand, the DEA's regulatory process may unwittingly contribute to delays.'

A close-up of the hand of a child writing on a notebook, the pen shaking slightly showing the difficulties faced by those with ADHD. Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

The drug that seems to bear the brunt of this shortage is Adderall, along with variations of methylphenidate, sold under popular brand names like Ritalin or Concerta. 'Adderall is one of the most frequently prescribed ADHD medications in the U.S., hence this depletion is causing nationwide havoc,' comments Dr. Bourgeois.

Pharmaceutical and manufacturing corporations forecast the crisis to cease between August and December 2023, yet the exact timing of universal availability remains a murky unknown. This predicament brings a wave of tribulation not only on patients but also their families and practitioners.

The scramble to secure these medications has led parents to embark on long drives and engage in countless pharmacy calls. Practitioners, too, are constantly reshuffling to issue prescriptions to other pharmacies or switch to entirely different medication. In the worst-case scenario, kids with ADHD might have to face dismissal of their medication leading to exacerbated symptoms and a toughened challenge for parents and teachers alike.

This might adversely impact not only the patients' academic performances but could also raise worries for peers in the vicinity, forewarns Dr. Bourgeois. Therefore, Dr. Bourgeois advises parents to strategize when filling ADHD medications - approaching pharmacies at least two days before medication need, considering the heightened demand around school opening month lies in August.

A health worker discussing with a family member about alternative ADHD treatments, a computer screen visible showing various online resources. Taken with a Sony a7 III.

With the inability to extend the duration of these medications by distributing lower doses, it is integral to confer with the pharmacist and practitioner to conjur a solution that echoes the patient's needs.

Addressing the situation, Dr. Willough Jenkins, a major advocate of non-drug ADHD treatments and inpatient psychiatry director at Rady Children's Hospital, suggests there isn't a 'one-size-fits-all approach'. Comprehensive utilization of treatment methods, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy along with parent training, individualized education initiatives, ADHD coaching, and basic health practices, can provide an alternative pathway.

However, he warns of challenges faced by families in accessing these alternative resources. Despite the financial restrictions and the absence of ADHD insurance cover, assorted online tools have made non-drug treatments more accessible.

Meanwhile, the FDA had pledged active measures to prevent, control, and resolve the drug shortages, working relentlessly with drug producers to meet the DEA's cap on filled prescriptions. The agency has also introduced a game-based digital therapeutic in its resolution steps, aiming at enhancing focus in ADHD diagnosed children.