Adderall shortage leaves some ADHD patients, parents scrambling: ‘It’s causing a lot of stress’

A chart published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows how the total number of U.S. children ages three to 17 years old diagnosed with ADHD has changed over time.

Mary Beth McCarthy knows firsthand what Adderall can do for her 6-year-old daughter.

When she’s on the medication, one of the most commonly used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, she can concentrate, get through a school day, listen to her teacher and control her impulses. When she’s off it, she’s off.

“It’s a night-and-day difference when she’s on the medication and when she’s not,” the Schaumburg woman said. “She can’t concentrate at school. She can’t do her schoolwork. She can’t learn. She isn’t able to participate well or listen to the teacher.”

So when her regular pharmacy didn’t have Adderall in stock in the last month, McCarthy went to work. She called different pharmacies and finally found one -- in Geneva -- that had it.

“It makes her life so much different,” McCarthy said of the medication.

McCarthy’s hunt for Adderall is not unusual.

In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a national shortage of Adderall. In the announcement, the FDA noted that one of the main manufacturers of the drug was experiencing delays and there was not sufficient supply to meet the demand for the medication. The agency anticipated the shortage to be resolved in January.

“It’s causing a lot of stress,” said Dr. Danesh Alam, medical director at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 10% of school-aged children, or roughly 6 million children, have been diagnosed with ADHD, based on data collected from 2016 to 2019.

Approximately 10 million adults also have ADHD, according to Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, an organization that provides education, advocacy and support for those with ADHD.

And, Alam said, the number of patients diagnosed with ADHD continues to increase.

“It’s sort of like a post-COVID tsunami,” he said, noting an increase in diagnosis is leading to higher demand when manufacturers are experiencing supply chain issues. “We’re hearing that pharmacies are back-ordered for months.”

Laura, a 48-year-old Crystal Lake woman who did not want her last name used, said she finally got her prescription for Adderall filled after a failed attempt to try a different medication and calls to several pharmacies. She has a three-month supply but is limiting use to the days when she knows concentration and focus may be problematic.

“It’s kind of a Catch-22,” said Laura, who added she talked to her physician about her plans to stretch out her medication until the shortage resolves. “I want to take it as directed, but I don’t know if it’s going to be available.”

Physicians recommend patients talk to them if they have difficulty getting their prescription filled. Some fixes may include taking a combination of lower-dosage pills to come up with the correct dosage, substituting a brand name medication if it can be afforded, or trying a new medication if necessary.

“Your doctor is going to be very willing to work with you,” said Dr. Steph Lee, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics who treats patients in a rural area outside Philadelphia. “We know that your medication is very important.”

Alam said his staff has been staying on top of which pharmacies, in general, have a good stock of the medication. He has also been careful to educate newly diagnosed patients on their medication options and the challenges they may face in filling the prescription.

Lee suggested patients contact their physician early if they think they may need to change medication or use a lower dosage to make up the proper dosage, so they can get proper insurance approvals.

For McCarthy, she’s hopeful the supply she has on hand -- and her resourcefulness -- gets her daughter through the shortage.

“We haven’t gotten to the point where we’d need to become more resourceful and switch up how to get her the direct dose or use a different medication,” she said, “and I’m trying hard not to do that.”

Alicia Fabbre Daily Herald Media Group

Alicia Fabbre is a local journalist who contributes to the Daily Herald