Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | The ADHD effect: The shortage of medication affecting the US

CW / Natalie Teat
Pharmacies across the nation are struggling to keep ADHD medicine in stock.

It is not uncommon to find Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin or other similar prescriptions in an American’s medicine cabinet. These are all medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a chronic condition that affects about 8.7 million adults in the United States. 

Yet, even with this astounding number of Americans affected by the disorder, there is an extreme shortage of the medications to treat it. What ought to be an extremely accessible array of remedies for widespread diagnoses lately has not been.

This unfortunate shortage started to show as early as October 2022, when the Food and Drug Administration announced that there was a shortage of the short-acting amphetamine stimulant used in the brand-name prescription Adderall. According to the National Community Pharmacists Association, the amphetamine salts used in the prescription are predicted to be in shortage until as late as December 2023, thus pushing doctors to prescribe other generic versions of the medication. 

With the decrease of supply starting to show as early as fall 2022, this means that over a year has passed with thousands of Americans going untreated and suffering in silence. When asked directly about the issue, the FDA attributed the shortage to “ongoing intermittent manufacturing delays.” 

The sudden push from Adderall to a variety of generic alternatives created a mass insufficiency. What started with a few brand-name prescriptions turned into a domino effect of shortages of both normal and extended-release dosages of the drug. 

When searching for pharmacy locations with the prescriptions in stock on Google, users are instead greeted with links to tips and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline number to help deal with the withdrawal effects. 

People should not be asked to deal with circumstances rather than receive the remedy they deserve and so desperately need. This extreme deficit creates not only untreated symptoms, but extreme stress and desperation in patients and families affected across the U.S. 

But is the lack of ingredients the real main cause of the shortage? A common question among those affected has become: Is there a shortage of medication, or a surplus of diagnoses? A main concern among the public is overdiagnosis in the U.S. 

Research suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic possibly contributed to an increase in prescriptions for ADHD medications, as there was a 10% rise in prescription fills from 2020 to 2021, a drastic increase after four years of relatively little change.

The Government Accountability Office also performed a further examination of telehealth services in select states pre- and post- COVID-19 and found that the number of telehealth services in those states was 15 times that of the pre-pandemic status. 

The expansion of telehealth services and more relaxed prescription standards during the pandemic created a perfect storm for a shortage. This dramatic increase strained suppliers resulting in pharmacies far and wide becoming unable to keep up inventory and reemergence of symptoms in patients stopping their medications abruptly. 

“For the past year refilling my prescription has been very stressful because I have to call around to all the pharmacies to see if anyone has it in stock,” Ragan Hope Wilson, a junior majoring in social work, said. “Some pharmacies won’t tell you over the phone if you haven’t filled it with them before, so you have to go in person and show your prescription just to ask if they have it or not.”

Wilson said that while it’s gotten easier to find her medication in the past few months, it’s “still a big issue for” her and others who need their medications to prosper. 

From an outsider’s view, the shortage may seem as simple as not having Advil for a headache. However, withdrawal symptoms are something that those not directly affected by the ongoing drug deficiency wouldn’t normally take into consideration. 

From depression and loss of appetite to irritability and fatigue, these are only a few of the side effects of the sudden stoppage of daily doses, not to mention reemergence symptoms. However, the breadth of the backlash from the lack of treatment can only truly be seen from an insider’s perspective.

“My old doctor stopped prescribing meds to people over 18,” said Ben Mitchell, a junior majoring in news media. “Now I have to go through a new doctor who I have to get on a Zoom with every three months just to make sure the dosage is working.”

Being an out-of-state student from Mission Viejo, California, Mitchell also said it’s difficult to get his medication shipped to Alabama in a timely manner and the shortage isn’t making things any easier.

This prolonged scarcity of pharmaceutical relief has left those affected upset, untreated and with unanswered questions. One does not need to be affected to see the detriment this deficit has caused.

The FDA must step up and claim ownership of the empty bottles and, and if nothing else, shed a little light on an action plan for the millions left in the dark. Millions of Americans are being taunted with insincere optimism from suppliers and the constant background buzz of their once suppressed symptoms.

The weight that a 0.4 gram pill holds has suddenly become much, much heavier.

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