An ongoing shortage of Adderall has left children unable to concentrate and behave in school, according to parents across the US.
Parents and school officials across the US, from California to Kentucky to Massachusetts, are worried about falling grades and increased violence among children in sudden detox due to having their meds cut off.
The Food and Drug Administration acknowledged the shortage last October, but parents of children with ADHD have been blowing the whistle on supply chain issues and backorders since the summer.
Medicating children for ADHD is the norm in the US and of the more than six million of them who have the condition, over 60 percent take medication like Adderall. But over the years, concern in the medical community about overprescribing the potentially addictive medications has risen.
Adderall, arguably the most commonly prescribed ADHD medication in the US, is banned in many European countries as well as Japan.
Doctors in peer countries seem less eager to prescribe the medications. While a whopping 41 million Adderall prescriptions were dispensed in the U.S. in 2021, Britain’s National Health Service doled out a total of just 2.23 million ADHD drugs from July 2021 to June 2022.
Adderall was officially recognized as a drug in shortage by the FDA in October, but many parents have struggled to get the prescriptions for their children since last summer
Adderall prescriptions have steadily increased over the last 12 years. The figures include prescriptions for both Adderall, brand and generic, in the U.S.
Prescriptions for Adderall surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. In February 2020, just before the virus erupted across America, the drug made up 1.1% of drugs. By September 2022, the figure had more than doubled to 2.31% of all scripts written
Still, there have been reports nationwide of kids acting out in class, disrupting fellow students, and increasing disciplinary calls to parents over the past year.
The ongoing problem has been attributed to worker and supply shortages at the Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals, which made one out of four branded and generic Adderall pills dispensed at US pharmacies last year.
It is also linked to soaring rates of new prescriptions being doled out during the pandemic when telehealth services proliferated and more bad actors were able to supply the drugs to people with little to no consultation.
A Washington mother has blamed lax Adderall prescriptions brought in during the Covid pandemic for her son Elijah’s suicide last year. The young man who died at 21 had been abusing Adderall in the months leading up to his death.
His mother, Kelli Rasmussen, said that despite her son not having Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), he was able to secure a prescription online though the controversial mental health startup Cerebral by lying to telehealth providers – even though he had previously suffered from other mental health issues.
Massachusetts-based mom of four Samm Davidson detailed her seven-year-old son’s difficulty performing well in school after not having his generic form of Adderall.
Ms Davidson said: ‘Today though, I read an email about his increased silliness and inability to pay attention. He is blurting out answers, distracting peers in small groups, and having difficulty completing assignments.
‘And while disappointing, the email comes as no surprise… my son has been without his prescription for four days straight, which has a very big impact.’
ADHD medications treat a deficiency in certain neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine and norepinephrine, which are involved in attention and focus.
An estimated six million children aged three to 17 have ADHD.
Of that total, about 62 percent take medication to manage symptoms, including an inability to sustain attention and listen to others, impulsive actions such as interrupting others, and hyperactive behaviors such as constant motion with no apparent goal.
Ms Davidson went on: ‘My son’s learning is directly affected by this issue. He relies on his prescribed medication to focus his mind and calm his body to be successful in a learning environment… So withholding it, randomly, for days at a time, feels so unfair to his little seven year old brain.’
In Marana, Arizona, Jennifer Paul, a mother of seven-year-old twin daughters told the Wall Street Journal that the shortages have caused ‘hell’ for her family. Her daughters were running out of medication and unable to get a refill for about one week each month, leading them to act out at home and in school.
Ms Paul said: ‘They’re hitting teachers, throwing dirt, destroying the classroom… They can’t focus.
‘It’s caused a lot of issues in our family. Nobody wants to be around us when they’re having that behavior.’
Meanwhile, in Aurora, Colorado, the Hahn family has struggled to find Adderall for their 6-year-old son, Troy. His father, Phil Hahn, said he has been trying to fill Troy’s prescription for Adderall at at least 20 different pharmacies.
Mr Hahn said he is seeing behavioral changes in his son, even citing changes in Troy’s handwriting as evidence of the impact that not having the medication has had.
Adderall contains a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.
It works by increasing the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which helps improve focus, attention, and impulse control in individuals with ADHD.
Earlier this year, the National Community Pharmacists Association found that 64 percent of community pharmacists reported having trouble getting Adderall.
And without it, students are struggling.
In Georgia, Kristina Yiaras ran through an exhaustive list of pharmacies within 50 miles of her home in Kingsland in a fruitless attempt to fill her eight-year-old son’s prescriptions.
Ms Yiaras told NPR: ‘The minute we ran out of it, he was back to getting in trouble every day, getting up out of his seat… The teachers immediately noticed that he was off of it.’
The FDA has approved several drugs to treat ADHD, the most common and trusted of which are stimulants, tightly controlled medications by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
There are only two stimulant medications: methylphenidate (the active ingredient in Ritalin, Concerta and other formulations) and amphetamine (the active ingredient in Adderall, Vyvanse and other formulations).
But because of its high potential for misuse, the DEA has classified it as a schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
This means that the agency chooses yearly quotas for producing the drugs based on historical data. But critics of the agency argue it has not updated its quotas to reflect an increased demand over the past several years, driving a shortage.
Demand for the drugs has skyrocketed in recent years, which many blame on the advent of telehealth services during the Covid pandemic that led to an increase in prescribing.
Health data company Trilliant Health reported last summer than Adderall prescriptions for adults rose 15.1 percent during 2020, double the 7.4 percent rise seen the year prior.
Diagnoses of behavioral issues surged during the Covid pandemic as people who were suddenly thrust into a world of isolation struggled to cope with massive lifestyle changes, financial insecurity, a transition to working from home and, in some cases, becoming homeschool teachers at the drop of a hat.
Overprescribing of Adderall, a common party drug, is also a major issue. So much so that embattled mental health startup Cerebral has been targeted by the Department of Justice for possibly violating the Controlled Substances Act by overprescribing drugs like Adderall and Xanax for anxiety.
Today, some 41 million Americans have a prescription for Adderall, a 16 percent jump from pre-pandemic levels. Four million new patients got prescriptions last year, double the previous year.
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