Students struggle to find medication amid Adderall shortage

Graphic by Kenzie Akins.

In late 2022, a shortage of the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drug, Adderall, caused some physicians to switch patients to similar drugs like Ritalin, Concerta and Vyvanse.

The Food and Drug Administration estimated that the shortage would end in February, but now expects it to last until mid-March. Manufacturing company Teva expects supply problems to last through March. The shortage has now spread to generic medications, as well as branded alternatives that were meant to supplement the initial Adderall shortage. 

Drug producers can’t simply increase production to address rising prescriptions. As a Schedule II controlled substance, Adderall’s obtainability in pharmacies is monitored more than other drugs. According to the Food and Drug Administration, amphetamines are the subject of extensive abuse and can cause extreme psychological dependence. The Drug Enforcement Administration limits how much can be produced and released, while pharmacies limit the number of pills patients can receive.

 The National Library of Medicine noted that the initial shortage came after a surge of diagnoses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trilliant Health wrote that adult Adderall prescriptions rose 15.1% during 2020, compared to a 7.4% increase in 2019.

I was diagnosed just before COVID-19, and I’ve taken methylphenidate, the generic form of Ritalin, since late 2019. When working from home proved to be a great challenge during the pandemic, my doctor increased the dosage. My prescription helps increase my focus and stabilize my emotions.

“It’s one of the most effective treatments in all of medicine for any condition. These things work extremely well – once you get to the right dose for somebody, it’s not subtle. Like, ‘Wow, I can really focus now,’” psychiatrist Dr. Owen Muir said in an interview with The Guardian.

While this class of drug stabilizes patients, it leaves them frankly reliant on daily use. Ritalin works by influencing dopamine production in the brain, but it feels like my brain isn’t used to working without that dopamine. At the time that I’m writing this, I’ve only been out of my prescription for four days, but I’ve already felt tired and anxious. 

I’ve used caffeine to counteract my drop in energy while I wait for my prescription. In class on Monday, my hands and voice were noticeably shaky. My professor asked if I was feeling okay, and another student asked me if I had eaten breakfast as my hands shook at my desk.

Depending on insurance, individuals may or may not be granted coverage of whatever version of medication pharmacies have in stock. After finally finding a pharmacy that could supply methylphenidate, I had to call my insurance provider and explain the situation. The insurance company needed permission from my doctor to switch from generic to name brand. I’m currently waiting for my doctor’s permission to be delivered to my insurance, at which point I will finally receive a refill. 

The struggle to find my medication has proven to be a long-haul; I’d compare it to the experience of a person looking for their glasses while not being able to see without them. The amount of researching, calling, explaining, waiting and remembering information during this process feels near impossible, since I can’t get the medication that helps me do all of these things. 

I’m not even among the most severely affected. My dependence on the medication is light compared to other patients. Additionally, I’m privileged enough to have my parents’ support. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for someone without an understanding family to help them through this, let alone someone without health insurance. 

There isn’t a definite end in sight for the shortage. Until providers have more information or the Food and Drug Administration adapts its restrictions, patients’ ability to get the medication they need will remain up in the air. 

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Lauren Brennecke
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