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Anti-ADHD Drug Shortages Hit Local Pharmacies

Over-prescription, abuse, DEA regulations, and major drug companies issuing more expensive brand-named drugs than generics are considered factors in the limited supply of cheap anti-ADHD drugs.

Local patients prescribed generic-brand anti-ADHD drugs may have had a frustrating time finding a drug store stocked with their specific medication.  

Shortages of generic anti-ADHD drugs have recently become common at local pharmacies. The Shelton Walgreens retailers located and on , are out of Dextroamphetamine, the generic brand of Dexadrine, but some have other branded versions of similar drugs—such as Adderall and Ritalin—in stock, according to the pharmaceutical receptionists phoned.

Dextroamphetamine is notable for being one of the cheaper generic drugs, with a one-month supply of 30 5mg doses going for about $11, according to a Consumer Reports information sheet published in July 2010. A brand name of the substance, LiquidADD, costs seven times that amount for the same supply, according to Consumer Reports. 

According to a recent New York Times article, the shortage of ADHD drugs—specifically, the generic brands—appears to be a result of the Drug Enforcement Administration approving specified amounts of the drugs (because they are classified as a controlled substance) to be manufactured. These quotas are given to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which then passes along the restrictions to big pharmacy manufacturers. However, these manufacturers, while limited in the total number of amphetamines they can actually produce, can decide which prescription brands they want to create. For instance, the article states that Novartis creates ”both the branded and generic versions of Ritalin” and the company has “ensured that supplies of branded drugs are adequate while allowing generic versions to go wanting.”

Ease of access can lead to over-prescription, abuse

The DEA may have reason to issue these quotas. Dr. Barry Kerner, Physician-in-Chief of , said that many people abuse amphetamines and can acquire those drugs easily.

“Few doctors administer psychological testing for ADHD” and few doctors call patients’ previous psychiatrists for verification, which can lead to a “made-up history” which a person can use to acquire amphetamine prescriptions for years, he said. Many doctors could prescribe these drugs to a patient who may have read about and then feigned having the symptoms needed for ADHD diagnoses, using that information to obtain a prescription, according to Kerner.

If the doctor tries to tell a person whom they suspect does not actually have ADHD, the doctor runs the risk of losing the patient and the patient may just go and find another doctor for their prescription.

“Once you’re diagnosed with that it travels with you. People are often too busy to spend the time finding what the right diagnosis is. When people say they’ve been on this [amphetamine] for three years, and I say you don’t have ADHD, people get angry, get up and leave and go on to the next doctor,” said Kerner.

“It’s extremely easy to get the prescription for stimulants,” said Kerner.

Adults are the main abusers

It’s not just college kids who use amphetamines as ‘study drugs,’ either.

“There’s a whole area abuse that goes unnoticed,” said Kerner. “Soccer moms, who have to get through their day while doing 600 chores to run—they’ve got kids, benefits to go to, tennis in the morning, they’re running around the whole day” and might use stimulants to get through it, either by obtaining it through their own doctor or even using their children’s anti-ADHD drug.

“Then they might take benzodiazepines to go to sleep at night” he said. Benzodiazepines are a ‘downer’ drug which would be used in this case to counter-affect amphetamines ‘upper’ qualities.

While Kerner acknowledged that adolescents do abuse the drugs, “Most of the abuse is taking place in adults,” he said. “I think one of the reasons why there’s a shortage is because it’s being over prescribed....ADHD doesn’t begin in adulthood.”

Kerner noted that Provigil, a brand named drug that cost $18.55 per pill in August 2010, is a popular drug on Wall Street.

“If you’re putting in 14-hour days, some people resort to taking a stimulant to getting through the day,” he said. 

People who use pharmaceutical amphetamines habitually don’t experience physical withdrawal from the drug, but they are “habit forming and psychologically addictive” and in some cases patients may “crash, get depressed, get lackluster, and have no energy,” said Kerner.

Black market diversion and abuse

Perhaps because many people need to juggle multiple tasks and work harder to get ahead, or even just keep a job, the black market of amphetamines is thriving.

Kerner said there have been cases of people going to different psychiatrists in different states to obtain large quantities of the drug and sell them. He recalled reading about an instance where a person sold pills on Craigslist for profit. People sell them within their own social groups—a commonality in college—sometimes crush and snort the pills, and in rare instances melt the drug down and inject it, he said.

“We’ve had examples of abuse, people taking two, three, four times the amount as they’re supposed to take. We’ve had a kid with the correct [ADHD] diagnosis and abusing it,” said Kerner.

Dangers for patients without their medication

The Times article states that the Chief Executive of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder believes “the drug shortages had become so acute that many patients were going untreated, increasing their risks of deadly traffic accidents and job dismissals.”

Kerner agreed, but only “for a small population of the people taking it. There are people who are truly ADD and ADHD, and these medications really help them,” he said. Amphetamines can also be prescribed for narcolepsy and occasionally used for some of its anti-depression effects.

(Ed’s note: For more insights into healthy living—and the dangers of the lack thereof—)

morrow January 11, 2012 at 05:43 PM
I am an adult diagnosed late (at the age of 25) with ADHD. Before losing my medical insurance and ability to afford my generiic Ritalin (methylphenidate) medication last year, I had already begun to run into pharmacy shortages for my medication. Had I still had my job at the time, this would have presented me with very risky work handicaps and likely affected my job performance, possibly risking my employment. This can't happen. It is wrong. If the pharmaceutical companies are unwilling or unable to do the right thing by allotting more of their manufacturing quota to their generics, then the FDA needs to reconsider. FDA, do not let 'some' bad apples ruin the lives of productive, medicated ADHD adults. You are ruining lives. Lives of people with a disability. And no, adults do not "develop" ADHD, generally - however, there have been brain studies by one of the top doctors in the field which show that certain types of ADHD can be brain-injury induced in adulthood. And then there are those like myself, from a generation (and sometimes, gender) which went undiagnosed until adulthood - precipitating the "new prescriptions for adults" that you cynically sneer at. Think about it. We have to endure this suspicion of being (covert) "abusers" all the time. Those of us diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood live our lives under that scrutiny...we feel it every time we see a new doctor or fill our prescriptions.
Chris Baker January 12, 2012 at 06:39 PM
This is grade A drug company BS I've been taking ADD meds for 20 years and I have never seen this. What they've done is manipulated the law to create an artificial shortage of Generic ADD drugs so they can line their pockets with brand name profits. What should happen is our (useless) congress should pass a law that says "If the generic is not available the the brand name has to be sold at the generics price." See how long this 'shortage' lasts after that happens. But they would never do it because the drug companies line their political (and likely private) pocketbooks. Corruption at its finest. I think America is the only nation that you can get this drug prescribed., I was told about another product called AddieUP thats for sale in the US--- not as strong but works well with ADD etc., and needs no script or pharmacy to order

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