Some pharmacies have struggled to fill prescriptions for the drug Adderall for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder due to a labor shortage at the largest US supplier of the drug.
Still, the Food and Drug Administration said that, based on all manufacturers’ oversight of ADHD drug supplies, no deficiency has been identified overall.
Only one company is reporting “intermittent delays,” FDA spokesman Cherie Duvall-Jones said in an email. “Teva Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Adderall tablets, reports expected delays for the next 2-3 months.”
Teva Pharmaceuticals attributed the delay to a labor shortage on the packaging line, which it said has been resolved. The company added that it has an “active stock” of Adderall and its generic version, and that while some pharmacies may have a backorder, it should be temporary.
“We expect a full recovery for all inventories and orders in the coming weeks, after which we expect no disruption at the pharmacy level,” spokesman Kelley Dougherty said in a statement. Major pharmacy chains have reported no widespread problems. CVS Pharmacy said its locations “experienced no delivery issues for Adderall and are able to fill prescriptions as received in most cases.” Walgreens said its “current offerings meet the needs of our patients at this time.”
However, a survey by the National Community Pharmacists Association, conducted from July 25 to August 5, found that of the approximately 360 independent pharmacies that responded, about 64% had difficulty obtaining Adderall.
Some small pharmacies told NBC News they continue to experience problems.
At Roger’s Family Pharmacy in Yankton, South Dakota, pharmacist-owner Byron Olson said some formulations of the medication are harder to get than others.
“It’s often the case that they don’t quite figure it out,” he said of the drug makers, explaining that patients taking 20 mg twice a day, for example, may need to work with their doctors to get alternative pill formats.
In rare cases, patients may need to temporarily switch to another drug, he added.
“It can be frustrating for patients because they’re not aware of the deficits,” Olson said.
Meanwhile, pharmacist-owner Keith Lyke at Killingworth Family Pharmacy in Killingworth, Connecticut, said he has received patients from other pharmacies in the past month who were unable to fill their Adderall prescriptions elsewhere. While he has found that the drug is out of stock from some manufacturers, generics from other suppliers were easy enough to come by.
“We tell them it’s a different company, so it might look different,” he said.
An explosion in demand
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity severe enough to interfere with school, work, and other aspects of life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate, based on data from 2016 to 2019, that about 10% of children will be diagnosed, with boys being more likely to be diagnosed.
Adderall and other stimulants are a common and effective way to manage ADHD symptoms.
However, Adderall can be abused if taken incorrectly or without a prescription. Telehealth startups such as Cerebral and Done Health, which gained a foothold during the pandemic and prescribed stimulants, raised questions among pharmacies as to whether Adderall was being overprescribed. Former and current employees of those companies told The Wall Street Journal that they felt pressured to prescribe drugs without sufficient time to diagnose.
In May, Walmart and CVS announced they would stop filling prescriptions for controlled substances from those telehealth companies.
Demand for Adderall is greater than ever: according to The Wall Street Journal, US prescriptions dispensed rose to 41.4 million last year, up 10.4% from 2020.
But that doesn’t mean all ADHD diagnoses made during the pandemic were illegal, said Dr. David W. Goodman, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
“There are probably many people with ADHD who have never been diagnosed and never treated,” said Goodman, a former board member of the advocacy group Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
During pandemic lockdowns, some people’s symptoms may have become more noticeable, Goodman said, “because the day’s routine of going to work and working with colleagues and having an outside structure was eliminated.”
“So now people have to stay at home and structure themselves, which is very difficult for them, and the family members at home would then realize, you know, this person is consistently inconsistent,” he said.
There were previously shortages of ADHD stimulants: The FDA reported a shortage from September 2019 to May 2022.
Goodman advised patients taking Adderall to anticipate potential problems refilling their prescription and to work with their doctors and pharmacies to get alternatives if they experience problems.
“It is unpredictable. We can sail along well and then we run into a shortage.”
“It is unpredictable. We can sail well and then we run into a shortage,” he said.
He added that in his experience, the worst-case scenario — a patient who can’t get any medication at all — doesn’t last long, even during inventory shortages.
“Usually it’s a matter of a few days or within a week,” he said.