When Jess Noé got prescribed Concerta for her Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 2018, everything finally clicked for her and fell into place.
“Concerta was the first medication that truly helped me without major drawbacks,” says the Ocean Township resident. “I’d been put on Adderall, Ritalin, Wellbutrin and others with mixed results over the years, but this actually helped me maintain extended focus throughout the day.”
Concerta is a drug that is used to help with symptoms of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD. Millions of Americans take Concerta, Ritalin or Adderall to help with ADD and ADHD symptoms.
The medicine improves focus, clears mental fog, helps with depression and anxiety, and is the glue that holds everything together for people with ADHD and ADD. This medicine that’s so critical for Noé and other Americans has been is short supply since last summer.
In August of 2022, there were rumblings about Adderall users having trouble filling their prescriptions. Two months later, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed that there was a shortage.
“The current shortage was first posted on Oct. 12, 2022 and started with a delay from a manufacturer, which has since resolved, and is now demand-driven,” says an FDA spokesperson in an email to NJ Indy. ”Manufacturers are working to meet the demand and the FDA is helping with anything we can do to increase supply. Supply is increasing and the FDA is continuing to offer assistance.”
Teva, an Israeli-based company with its U.S. headquarters in Parsippany-Troy Hills, was experiencing manufacturing delays. Teva is one of the largest makers of Adderall in America, and this caused a chain reaction. (Teva has donated money to the campaigns of Garden State politicians such as Mikie Sherrill, Josh Gottenheimer, Frank Pallone Jr. and Bob Menendez.)
Since Adderall was hard to come by, patients turned to their doctors to prescribe other medicine for ADHD and ADD. People who were once on Adderall turned to Concerta and Ritalin, which resulted in shortages of the generics of those medications as well.
While the FDA says the manufacturing delays have been resolved, the increased demand for these medications is compounding the problem. There has been talk about quotas set by the DEA as a reason why medication has been hard to come by, but companies have not met those quotas according to the DEA, and they have no plans to raise them.
Also, the amount of medicine that is sent out to pharmacies is handled by the distributor of the medication. We reached out to those distributors and none of them were available to comment.
In 2021, Adderall prescriptions in the U.S. increased by 10% to 41.5 million. This was caused by several factors. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth rules were relaxed and doctors were able to prescribe medicine such as Adderall without an in-person visit. The relaxed rules benefited rural and disabled Americans who don’t have access to health care nearby. The Biden administration plans to sunset these regulations. Also, apps like TikTok made it easier for people to realize that they might have ADHD and showed people how to get prescribed medicine.
Currently, ADHD and ADD medications are Schedule 2 drugs by the DEA, which means that they face extra scrutiny, and are subject to greater regulation. Schedule 2 drugs, which include Oxycontin and Methadone, are safe to use but have the potential for abuse.
Medicine such as Adderall does get abused, and it is part of the story. But there is more to ADHD medicine than the stereotypes that it attracts. The face of ADHD and ADD isn’t a college kid abusing it just to party or ace finals. It’s the people who need it in order to work, go to school or concentrate on daily tasks. And for these Garden State residents, it’s getting harder to do just that.
According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, 30% of people with ADHD will have problems with chronic employment, and are 60% more likely to get fired from a job. The ADHD medicine shortage is having an impact on the workforce as well. Jess Noé had to take a leave of absence from her job in marketing due to not having her medication.
“My first day at work without meds was a disaster, and felt like the beginning of the end,” says Noé. “I had a meeting that day, and instantly remembered why I took these meds in the first place. I felt like the ADHD stereotype: bouncing legs, clicking my pen, unable to balance between listening and taking notes without missing something, distracted by the tiniest thing. I quickly became overwhelmed by my previously manageable life.”
For Noé, something had to give, and it was her job. She took a leave of absence from work, and has been without her medication for almost two months now. Her normal life has been uprooted. She now has to fight to get her medicine without having the medicine she needs.
“It feels like I spend every day chasing down drugs,” Noé says, “I’ll take a break from calling psych offices (having a change in my prescription has made this nightmare a thousand times worse) and pharmacies and researching everything about the shortage because it’s making me feel crazy, and shortly thereafter I’ll feel guilty, like I’m not doing enough to live without a medication I’ve relied on for nearly five years. It brings me back to high school and early college, before I was diagnosed, seeing my peers succeed with a third of the effort I was putting in, feeling exhausted by what I felt like was the bare minimum. Some days I wake up feeling like a zombie, like I don’t have a brain in my head. Sometimes I’ll be up all night with restless legs and jitters and racing thoughts.”
Noé is not alone with how she feels about ADHD; people with ADHD and ADD are often faced with primary care providers saying that they’ll “grow out” of ADHD like its a clothing or music phase. Oftentimes people looking for their medication are faced with feeling dehumanized from pharmacists because they need their prescription just to function in the world.
That feeling of being looked at weirdly by pharmacists for just simply the medicine you need to be a human being is something that Gabriella, a masters student at a South Jersey university studying social work, has grown accustomed to over the past couple of months. They have been facing problems with their medication since January, and currently they are not on it.
They have been taking Adderall for the past three years, and in January, the shortage hit their pharmacy. Their doctor prescribed Concerta, which was facing a supply shortage. Gabriella has been on and off with their medication and instead of focusing on their final semester of grad school, a lot of free time has been spent calling pharmacists around the Delaware Valley.
“I feel like ADHD and other neurodivergent disorders get a bad rap,” explains Gabriella. “I feel like a lot of people don’t take it seriously. Even you have pharmacists who give you a dirty look when I’m upset that they don’t have my medication.”
Pharmacies such as CVS realize that the shortage exists, and CVS spokesperson Matthew Blanchatte says in a statement to NJ Indy that, “We’re aware of intermittent shortages of certain medications, including amphetamine and methylphenidate, and are working with suppliers to replenish supply as quickly as possible. Our pharmacy teams make every effort to ensure patients have access to the medications they need and, if possible, will work with patients and prescribers to identify potential alternatives.”
Still, people with ADHD and ADD are largely facing a “not my problem” type of attitude from pharmacists. Gabriella not only faces that attitude from pharmacies they call, but also from some of their grad school professors. Even though some of their professors have been accommodating, and their university’s disabilities office has been extremely helpful, Gabriella still faces scrutiny from some of their professors even in a field that is dedicated to mental health, such as social work.
“Honestly, it’s been a struggle. I’m getting worse grades than I’ve ever gotten,” says Gabriella. “I feel like I’ve been having to reach out to my professors a lot and kind of just say, you know, ‘I really need to use my accommodations because I’m struggling. I’m not having access to my medication.’ And even the amount of professors who are just so unaware of how serious the effects of ADHD can be and how serious the effects of being unmedicated for the first time in years can be. This semester has been really, really difficult for me.
“I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread at this point. Like grad school, my internship, all of it just feels very difficult. I feel like my performance levels have gone down drastically. I feel like I’m usually a pretty perfectionist kind of [person], especially in my internships and within school, and all of that has really plummeted, which kind of sucks and is not great for mental health either.”
Another group of people who don’t seem to take ADHD and this shortage seriously is our elected officials in Washington, D.C. As of today, only two members of Congress have made a statement about the shortage, and both have Jersey ties. Virginia Congresswoman and Red Bank native Abigail Spanberger has been raising the alarm on the ADHD medication shortage since December of 2022.
NJ Indy reached out to all 12 of our members in the House of Representatives for a comment on the shortage, and only one congressperson got back to us with a statement. Donald Norcross (D-NJ, Camden), who represents a South Jersey district in Congress, gave us the following statement:
“The ongoing ADHD medicine shortage has made it extremely difficult for people in South Jersey and across the country to get the medicine they need. This lack of access to this medicine is concerning and has real-life consequences for people,” says Norcross. “I call on the federal government and DEA to do all we can to address this shortage and ensure that citizens have access to the medication they depend on.”
Mental health has been an increasingly big talking point in D.C., Trenton and other places where political power concentrates. Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman recently returned from a leave of absence to deal with depression. President Biden recently hosted the cast of Ted Lasso at the White House for a summit on mental health.
Even though there has been progress with destigmatizing mental health in the past decade, there’s still a stigma that surrounds ADHD and the medicine used to treat it in all walks of life. Look up “Adderall shortage” on Twitter, and a good amount of tweets are those about former President Trump allegedly abusing Adderall. This not only stigmatizes ADHD, but c’mon, there are other things to go after Trump, or any politician for that matter, for.
For all the progress we made destigmatizing mental health, this country has a long way to go when it comes to ADHD. And this medicine shortage has taken a huge toll on mental health for people with ADHD and their loved ones. At best, people spend their free time calling pharmacies asking for their medicine for themselves or their children, and they might get it after 10 calls. At worst, people are going through life without the medication that holds everything together, and not having that medicine will have an impact on their jobs, education, relationships and overall quality of life. In the future, this shortage will be over, but for now at least, the destigmatizion of ADHD needs to begin.