Adderall, the widely used drug for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is experiencing shortages across the United States, according to interviews with patients as well as major pharmacy chains that carry the pills.
Bloomberg spoke to half a dozen patients in states including California, Indiana and Michigan who said that they called or went into CVS or Walgreens pharmacies in August or September and were told the medicines were out of stock. In some cases, patients were told they might have to wait more than a week to get their medication, which is supposed to be taken every day.
The pharmacy companies said they had not always had Adderall available.
“There are supply chain challenges with this drug,” Walgreens spokesperson Rebekah Pajak said. The issues are affecting both instant-release and extended-release Adderall, she said. CVS spokesperson Matthew Blanchette said that the company’s pharmacies are able to fill Adderall prescriptions “in most cases.”
Several drug manufacturers have had the brand or generic pills on back-order over the past month. The problems started with a labor shortage at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, the top U.S. seller of Adderall, which led to limited supply of brand-name and generic instant-release Adderall. Soon after, Teva and three other companies — Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Rhodes Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Purdue Pharma, and Novartis’s Sandoz unit — had generic extended-release Adderall on back-order.
The disruptions are occurring at a time of record-high demand driven by increasing ADHD diagnoses. During the COVID pandemic, the federal government also made it easier for clinicians to prescribe the drugs through telehealth appointments, which removed barriers to access and also made possible the growth of online startups that connect patients with prescribers.
Some of those prescription startups have come under scrutiny. Bloomberg has previously reported on aggressive prescribing practices at the startups Cerebral and Done Health. Cerebral has stopped prescribing many controlled substances, including for ADHD, although Done continues to do so.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has interviewed employees of Cerebral, Bloomberg reported in May. The agency also has been questioning people about Done, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
DEA spokesperson Katherine Pfaff declined to comment. A Done spokesperson who did not provide their name said that the company has not received any information regarding an investigation.
Anthony Anderson, a 34-year-old special education teacher at a Michigan high school, said he has been without his Adderall since Sept. 6. He’s been taking the medicine for 15 years to treat his ADHD, and without it, he says it’s incredibly difficult to concentrate, which makes it challenging for him to do this job. Sometimes, he forgets what he is talking about mid-sentence.
Anderson was recently talking with a student about a suicide at the school, and at a time when he was supposed to be helping the grieving student, he just couldn’t pay attention.
“I even spaced out when I’m trying to have a serious conversation with this girl to console her, but I spaced out because I’m not able to focus,” he said. “This is a huge issue for me.”
He said he last called Walgreens on Sept. 14, more than a week after he first tried to fill the prescription, and he was told they might not have the pills until early October.
Bloomberg spoke with two Walgreens pharmacy workers in the Midwest who said that the pharmaceutical distributor AmerisourceBergen had been out of stock of several Adderall doses in their area, including the most popular 20-milligram pills.
“We continue to work with our customers and pharma partners to manage the available supply of Adderall,” AmerisourceBergen spokesperson Lauren Esposito said. She declined to provide details on Adderall availability in the Midwest.
The Food and Drug Administration, which keeps official lists of drugs in shortage, is not reporting a shortage for Adderall.
But a survey from the National Community Pharmacists Association found that hundreds of independent pharmacies reported difficulty ordering Adderall this summer. And the FDA did report shortages of the drug earlier this year, part of a supply disruption that ran from September 2019 through May 2022.
The FDA says on their website it publicizes drug shortages “once it has confirmed that overall market demand is not being met by the manufacturers of the product.”
“Manufacturers continue to release product,” FDA spokesperson Cherie Duvall-Jones said. “Please continue to watch our website for any updates or contact the manufactures for additional information.”
People trying to fill Adderall prescriptions face additional hurdles because the drug is classified by the DEA as Schedule II controlled substance.
Because of Adderall’s potential for abuse, in most states patients can only pick up a month’s supply at a time, and generally they can only do so a few days before their previous prescription runs out. If the pharmacy that receives the prescription doesn’t have the pills in stock, the patient might be told to call around to other pharmacies to find one that does.
Many patients told Bloomberg that they have had trouble filling their prescriptions in recent weeks and some had to go from pharmacy to pharmacy to try to find the medicine. Some didn’t want their full names printed to protect their privacy.
Brendan Keough got lucky in his search. The 26-year-old Chicagoan said he went into Walgreens on Aug. 24 to pick up the month’s supply of pills, but he was told they were on back-order with no anticipated arrival date. He was able to find the medicine a few days later at a Walmart, but in the meantime, he said he became depressed, irritable and anxious. He said it was hard for him to do his job — he’s a sales manager at car dealership, which requires keeping track of numbers and having a lot of social interactions.
While he was on the search, he wondered if he would have to resort to buying it illegally. But that worried him even more — he knows that street drugs are often counterfeit and contain fentanyl, a highly addictive opioid that can kill in small doses.
“It kind of scared the hell out of me,” he said.