“There are supply chain challenges with this drug,” said Walgreens spokeswoman Rebekah Pzak. He said issues are affecting both immediate-release and extended-release Adderall. CVS spokesman Matthew Blanchett said the company’s pharmacies are able to fill Adderall prescriptions “in most cases.”
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In the last one month, many drug makers have taken brand or generic pills on backorder. The problems began with a labor shortage at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Adderall’s top seller in the US, which led to limited supplies of brand-name and generic instant-release Adderall. Soon after, Teva and three other companies — Amneal Pharmaceuticals Inc., Rhodes Pharmaceuticals LP, a subsidiary of Purdue Pharma LP, and the Sandoz unit of Novartis AG — had generic extended-release Adderall on backorder.
Disruptions are occurring in times of record-high demand by increasing ADHD diagnoses. During the COVID pandemic, the federal government also made it easier for physicians to prescribe medications through telehealth appointments, eliminating barriers to access and allowing the development of online startups connecting patients with prescribers.
Some of those prescription startups have come under scrutiny. Bloomberg previously reported aggressive prescribing practices at startups Cerebral Inc. and Dunn Health. Cerebral has stopped prescribing many controlled substances, including ADHD, although continues to do so.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has interviewed employees of Cerebral, Bloomberg reported in May. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the agency is also questioning people about Dunn.
DEA spokeswoman Katherine Faf declined to comment. A Ho Gaya spokesperson, who did not give his name, said the company had not received any information regarding the investigation.
Anthony Anderson, a 34-year-old special education teacher at a Michigan high school, said he has been without Adderall since September 6. He’s been taking medication 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 function. Sometimes, he forgets what he’s talking about mid-sentence.
Anderson was talking with a student recently about suicide at school, and at a time when he had to help a victim student, he could not pay attention.
“I distanced myself even when I was trying to have a serious conversation to console this girl, but I didn’t pay attention, because I couldn’t concentrate,” he said. “It’s a big issue for me.”
He said he last called Walgreens on September 14, when he first tried to fill the prescription, and was told he might not have the pills until early October.
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Bloomberg spoke with two Walgreens pharmacy employees in the Midwest who said drug distributor AmerisourceBergen Corp. did not stock many Adderall supplements in its area, including the most popular 20-mg pills. AmerisourceBergen did not immediately respond to a request for comment on their supply in the Midwest.
The Food and Drug Administration, which maintains an official list of drugs in the US, is not currently reporting shortages for Adderall.
But a survey by the National Community Pharmacists Association found that hundreds of independent pharmacies this summer reported difficulty ordering Adderall. And the FDA reported drug shortages earlier this year, part of a supply disruption that lasted from September 2019 to May 2022.
The FDA states on its website that it publicizes a drug shortage “once it has been confirmed that overall market demand is not being met by the product’s manufacturers.”
“Manufacturers continue to release the product,” FDA spokeswoman Cheri Duvall-Jones said. “Please continue to check our website for any updates or contact manufacturers for additional information.”
People trying to fill Adderall prescriptions face additional hurdles because the drug is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance by the DEA.
Because of the potential for abuse of Adderall, patients in most states can only pick up a month’s supply at a time, and they can usually do so only a few days before their previous prescription expires. If the pharmacy receiving the prescription does not have pills in stock, the patient may be asked to call in other pharmacies to have them do so.
Several patients told Bloomberg they’ve had trouble filling their prescriptions in recent weeks and some had to go from pharmacy to pharmacy trying to find the drug. Some did not want their full name to be printed to protect their privacy.
Brendan Keough was lucky in his search. The 26-year-old Chicagoan said he went to Walgreens on August 24 to pick up a supply of the month’s pills, but was told they were on backorder with no anticipated arrival date. A few days later he found the drug at Walmart, but in the meantime, he said he had become depressed, irritable, and anxious. She said it was hard for her to do her job — she’s a sales manager at a car dealership, which requires keeping track of numbers and having a lot of social interactions.
While he was on the hunt, 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 scared the hell out of me,” he said.
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