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Many people with ADHD can't get their medication amid Adderall shortage

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Both the branded and generic versions of Adderall have been in short supply since October. That's a drug that treats attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. NPR's Sydney Lupkin reports the shortfall's having a serious impact on patients and the people around them.

SYDNEY LUPKIN, BYLINE: Kristina Yiaras is the kind of mom who's hesitant to let her kids take too many medications. But when her 8-year-old started taking Adderall, she couldn't deny that his ADHD symptoms got better right away.

KRISTINA YIARAS: He was getting - you know, finally able to get, like, smiley faces coming home and all of that. So he was super excited because he wasn't the trouble kid anymore. He wasn't in trouble. He was actually getting rewarded.

LUPKIN: Then she went to the pharmacy to refill his prescription, but the medicine was out of stock. She went down a list of pharmacies and asked her mom to make calls too. They couldn't find it anywhere.

YIARAS: The minute we ran out of it, he was back to, you know, getting in trouble every day, getting up out of his seat. The teachers immediately noticed that he was off of it.

LUPKIN: The Adderall shortage started as a production issue at Teva, one of the world's largest drug makers. It makes generic and brand-name Adderall. Many makers of the drug have told the Food and Drug Administration they've been unable to keep up with the demand. Some manufacturers say they're having problems getting a key ingredient. Adderall is an amphetamine. It's classified as a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which limits the amount of raw ingredients companies can get to manufacture Adderall. I asked Erin Fox, a nationally recognized expert on drug shortages - what's going on?

ERIN FOX: There's a lot of finger-pointing. So, you know, a lot of the companies tell us that the reason they can't have full availability is because of DEA quotas. But DEA says that the companies haven't used all of their quota, and they're not going to increase it. And DEA says they're getting their information from the companies.

LUPKIN: She says the companies are secretive about the details. And she says it's frustrating that the FDA can't force the companies to explain. Teva, for its part, says it's working to meet the historic demand. Brand-name Adderall is no longer officially in shortage, but generics, which most people are taking, are expected to be on backorder until the spring. Dr. Max Wiznitzer is a pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland.

MAX WIZNITZER: We get calls every day about people being unable to get their medication and what they should do. On average, it's at least three to six. Sometimes it's 10 or 12. And it's been a constant trend, even to today, where I've already taken care of two or three circumstances like that.

LUPKIN: He's had to be creative to make sure patients get what they need. Sometimes that's a different strength pill or a longer- or shorter-acting one. Sometimes he prescribes a different drug altogether, like Ritalin. But even that's been in shortage. Wiznitzer says even without the shortage, there's never been such high demand for these drugs.

WIZNITZER: During the pandemic, we have these kids at home whose parents finally are seeing the ADHD behaviors and how they impact a school performance that they would not have seen in the past. No. 2 is the increased recognition of adult ADHD.

LUPKIN: Lisa Wetzel-Trainor is a New Jersey-based writer with ADHD. She managed to avoid the shortage until this week, when her pharmacy couldn't fill her prescription.

LISA WETZEL-TRAINOR: And I literally got out of there and sat in my car and just cried.

LUPKIN: For now, she plans to ration her pills, but she's worried. She depends on Adderall to keep her on track.

WETZEL-TRAINOR: And now in my adulthood, I think that's part of the panic too. It's like, am I going to start slipping, you know, in my career? Am I going to start going backwards?

LUPKIN: She hopes the shortage will end soon, before her pills run out. Sydney Lupkin, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUTS SONG, "GHETTO IN PARADISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sydney Lupkin is the pharmaceuticals correspondent for NPR.