The irony of Adderall, a medication used to treat people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), experiencing a shortage that has led to multiple administrative steps being required to obtain the drug is not lost on those who need it.
“It’s so frustrating that getting my meds requires me to be organized, focused, and motivated — all the things I’m on these meds to help with,” Irene Kelly, who has been using Adderall for 14 years, told BuzzFeed News.
Adderall, the brand name for a drug made up of amphetamine salts, is tightly controlled by the government. Even getting a prescription can be difficult, especially as some doctors raise concerns about the legitimacy of telehealth services prescribing the medication and warn that videos of people talking about their ADHD diagnoses are becoming a TikTok trend. Now it’s becoming even harder to get.
Twenty people across the country this week told BuzzFeed News their pharmacies, from chains like CVS to small local ones, don’t have the drug in stock. In August, a survey from the National Community Pharmacists Association found that more than 6 in 10 small pharmacies are having difficulty obtaining Adderall.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, there was a nationwide Adderall shortage in September 2019 that lasted until May 2022 due to “demand increase in the drug,” but there isn’t one now — even though consumers say they’re still struggling to get their medication.
“I was supposed to get my new prescription almost two weeks ago, but Walgreens sent me an email telling me it was out of stock,” said Claire, a 23-year-old publicist in South Dakota who asked for her last name not to be published for privacy reasons. “Of course, it's hard to remember to check for updates since I'm not on Adderall right now."
“Getting my prescription filled has been nothing short of a living hell,” Will Kronberg, a 31-year-old software development engineer in Illinois, told BuzzFeed News. Hailey, a 23-year-old in Washington who asked not to use her last name for privacy reasons, told BuzzFeed News that getting her ADHD medication has been a “constant uphill battle with no end in sight.”
Even before Hailey noticed a shortage, she had to get a new prescription from her doctor every month and facilitate communication between the doctor and her pharmacy. She can’t request medication early or stockpile it in case of a shortage because it’s a controlled substance, so if her pharmacy runs out, she could lose access to her ADHD treatment indefinitely.
"It's a terrible process," she said. "I would switch to another pharmacy, but I've heard it's like this everywhere. It feels so frustratingly hopeless."
The reason behind the shortage is multipronged. A spokesperson for Teva Pharmaceuticals, the largest Adderall manufacturer in the US, told Bloomberg News that packaging issues at one manufacturing facility could disrupt production until the fall. The company did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Adderall prescriptions increased from 3 million per month in September 2019 (at the start of the reported shortage) to 3.5 million in December 2020, according to a report from Healthcare data company IQVIA, cited by multiple media articles. Plus, the Drug Enforcement Administration decreased how much Adderall can be sold in the US per year from 50,000 kilograms (in 2016) to 41,2000 kilograms (in 2022) because it said the medicine was being abused for cognitive enhancement and recreation, according to a 2022 Los Angeles magazine report.
These changes have created a nightmare situation for those who need it.
In a statement to Bloomberg, a Teva Pharmaceuticals spokesperson attributed increased demand for Adderall to a rise in mental telehealth providers. Companies such as Cerebral, which became popular during the pandemic as an alternative to in-office therapy visits, marketed themselves as providing easier access to ADHD medication — but faced widespread criticism for overprescription, underqualified staff who offer diagnoses too quickly, and misleading social media ads about diagnosis that led some pharmacies to reject prescriptions from the mental health provider. Cerebral announced it would stop prescribing Adderall in May 2022.
However, for many people, getting an ADHD diagnosis from an in-person doctor often came with long waiting periods and emotionally intense appointments. Telehealth presented a way around those difficulties, but some medical experts have condemned virtual practices for diagnosing ADHD and providing medication too quickly. Patients, though, are grateful for finally being able to access care.
“There are a lot of providers, startups, and conversations online that focus more on the profitability, misuse, and danger of Adderall use than the life-changing consequences of losing access to something so important,” Dylan Austin, a writer who was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of the pandemic, told BuzzFeed News.
In addition to telehealth access and an increase in distractions from at-home work and education, the boom of pandemic ADHD diagnoses is also credited to a spike in TikTok posts about the condition. With more information about the condition readily available, more people were able to recognize it in themselves, foster community, and talk openly about their struggles. But misinformation about ADHD symptoms spread just as rapidly on TikTok, and according to Mashable, played a role in trivializing the condition by making it seem like a social media trend.
It doesn’t help that the drugs used to manage ADHD symptoms are so stigmatized, either. Adderall and other stimulants have a high potential for abuse and addiction, which can make doctors more reluctant to prescribe them. Even when people have a prescription, increased demand across the country has clashed with DEA-imposed limits on Adderall production, making it hard to get.
To the people who use Adderall to manage their ADHD symptoms, a shortage is more than a minor inconvenience — it’s a threat to their productivity. To obtain the drug that helps them complete administrative tasks, they have to complete a series of administrative tasks.
Kyle, a 27-year-old who didn’t want to share his last name to keep his medical information private, told BuzzFeed News that his work performance declines without Adderall, and that greatly impacts his mental health.
“I’m constantly nervous that I won’t be able to get my medicine, and I’ll get fired and not be able to find another job and turn back into a gross depressed garbage monster who hates himself for not being able to do his laundry,” he said. “I’ll just be stressed and upset all the time.”
Adderall users sent BuzzFeed News several tips for filling prescriptions amid the shortage: switching to other ADHD medications, using prescription medicine delivery services, going to local shops in areas with older populations, getting physical prescriptions that can be taken door-to-door in search of stock, and setting reminders to check in every day.
Crista Anne, a writer and activist, told BuzzFeed News that Adderall “completely changed” her life after she was diagnosed with ADHD through a telehealth app during the pandemic. It took her an extra three weeks to get her last refill, and she’s nervous she might not get the next one at all.
“I’m a single mom. I have to be on top of life all the time. … This [shortage] is really freaking me out,” she said. “I got my meds filled last week … but not knowing when my brain will work is terrifying.” ●