Jen Robinson was diagnosed with adult ADHD at 39 years old.
“I experienced most of my life without a framework for understanding how my brain works. I just barely got a handle on managing my sparkle brain with the right medication when the Adderall shortage started,” she tells Scary Mommy.
Robinson is a nurse practitioner and also a parent to a four-year-old and stepparent to a six-year-old. She has not only has felt the effects of the Adderall shortage within her personal life, but also at the workplace in what she refers to as a “not surprising development in supply chain hell.”
In October 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that there was a nationwide shortage of the immediate release formulation of amphetamine mixed salts — commonly known by its brand name Adderall.
More: Common Signs Of Adult ADHD
The FDA explained the shortage started with production issues at Teva — one of the world’s largest drug manufactures. Teva makes both generic and brand-name Adderall.
Since the announcement of the shortage, brand-name Adderall is no longer officially in shortage, according to the FDA shortage tracker. However, the generic version — which most people take due to cost and insurance coverage — is expected to be in short supply for the unforeseeable future.
Most experts attribute the shortage to the rise of prescriptions for stimulants. In 2020, Adderall prescriptions for adults rose by 15.1%, doubling from the previous year’s 7.4%.
Teva told NPR that they’re working to meet the demand. “We continue to manufacture these products and Teva has supply of both branded Adderall and its generic version,” a company spokesperson wrote in a statement.
According to research, 4% of adults and 3% to 7% of school-aged children in the United States are diagnosed with ADHD, and amphetamine medication has been key in the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy in adults and children.
A combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine gives Adderral its category as a central nervous system stimulant that aims to foster impulse control and hyperactivity by altering chemicals in the nerves and brain.
“The shortage of Adderall has had an impact on families with children, adolescents or adults that are prescribed the medication to help with their diagnosis of ADHD,” Sussan Nwogwugwu, Done Regional Nurse Practitioner Lead with DoneFirst.com tells Scary Mommy. “Some parents have stated that their life has been impacted to the point that they have had to consider changing their child’s prescription, even though Adderall has been proven effective for their symptoms.”
While thousands are suffering from this shortage, families, especially parents who need the medication for themselves or their children, are taking the brunt of it.
Jen Robinson knows this all too well. “When I do not take my Adderall, it is even harder for me to get my kids to school on time, clean up around the house, get my work done in any timely manner, and be an emotionally regulated, patient parent,” she admits. “I have had to work more on evenings and weekends to meet deadlines because I have been unable to complete work deliverables during work hours.”
The irony of those who need Adderall — a drug that can help with executive function and focus — is not lost on those in search of the illusive drug. “For people like me with executive function problems, the task of tracking down Adderall is extra challenging,” Robinson says.
But that hasn’t stopped her from going the extra mile to secure a prescription.
“The only two times that I was able to fill my prescription since the shortage started, it felt like divine intervention,” she tells Scary Mommy. “I would call the pharmacy every few days to see if they happen to have any in stock, and the one time they did, I dropped everything to go pick it up because they said it was first come first serve.”
The second time Robinson was lucky enough to fill her prescription, she had been tipped off by her therapist (who also has ADHD) that a pharmacy across town had some in stock.
“For the dose that I usually take, they only had the brand-name, which my insurance would not cover and would have cost me $300 for 30 day supply. I was willing to pay that and continue to ration the medication, if that was my only option,” she continues.
Luckily, for her, the pharmacy was carrying the drug in a slightly higher dose. After some back and forth with her prescriber, she secured the drug.
“I am still rationing today,” she admits.
So, what about those in need of Adderall who don’t get as much help from the universe?
According to health experts, they could switch to a different drug, but there may be some risk involved.
“People with ADHD and on ADHD medication such as Adderall can switch from one category of drugs to another, but with a health care practitioner’s guidance. Side-effects or shortages may warrant a switch to alternative medication such as Ritalin or Vyvanse,” Nwogwugwu continues.
Some parents who have made the switch to Ritalin or Vyvanase have experienced side effects and promptly stopped treatment all together, Jocelyn Moyet, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with Grow Therapy, added.
“Various alternative forms of stimulants exist for the treatment of ADHD symptoms, but most patients experience better outcomes with one particular medication,” Nwogwugwu explains.
The shortage, unsurprisingly, has brought on increased levels of anxiety and stress levels. Some are having to debate when to use the pills they do have and when to stretch them out in order to conserve — which is not recommended by doctors except in times of emergency.
“Certain clients affected by the shortage have stated that the shortage of Adderall has impacted their life, routines and overall mental health, on occasions reporting an increase of anxiety symptoms when it is time to refill their prescription,” Moyet explains.
The looming uncertainty of the availability of the medication, the process of calling multiple pharmacies to track down availability, and the implications of not being able to continue their treatment, have all led to an increase in mental health symptoms and stress levels for those depending on Adderall.
Nwogwugwu echoes this sentiment. “Relative to the number of people diagnosed with ADHD, a lot of people rely on medication for an optimal quality of life,’ she explains. “Lack of access to the necessary ADHD medication can have negative affects on the patient’s education or work life, and the life of those around them such as family or coworkers. In addition, intimate relationships may be affected, since a distractible partner or parent places additional strain on others.”
Nwogwugwu even fears that with such a popular drug in short supply, those with addiction issues may find other, illegitimate forms of amphetamine to fill the void.
“When legal, safe, regulated stimulant medication is in short supply, there is concern that some patients, particularly those with addiction issues, may turn to the street for illegal forms of amphetamine,” she explains.
While the FDA assures they are doing all they can to meet demand, those in search of Adderall continue to wonder when the shortage will come to an end as they continue to travel, ration, and consider alternatives.
“The FDA recognizes the potential impact that reduced availability of certain products may have on health care providers and patients. While the agency does not manufacturer drugs and cannot require a pharmaceutical company to make a drug, make more of a drug, or change the distribution of a drug, the public should rest assured the FDA is working closely with numerous manufacturers and others in the supply chain to understand, mitigate and prevent or reduce the impact of intermittent or reduced availability of certain products,” the Food and Drug Administration told CBS2 in a statement Tuesday.
“The FDA understands that manufacturers expect availability to continue to increase in the near future.”
With no end in sight to the shortage, health experts recommend getting in touch with your doctor to make a backup plan. That backup plan will vary person to person, says Moyet.
“Every person has specific needs that should be addressed and managed individually with their prescriber. It’s always recommended to continue treatment as prescribed and not to make changes without consulting the professional that is in charge of your or your child’s medication management,” she continues.
“Talk to your doctor about your concerns and challenges, and work with them to find a solution that is best suited for your child, your family or yourself.”