The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday January 28th

Students struggling to fill ADHD prescriptions search for solutions

DTH Photo Illustration. Students with ADHD are struggling to fill their prescriptions as pharmacies are experiencing shortages of Adderall, Focalin, Concerta and other medications prescribed to treat ADHD.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. Students with ADHD are struggling to fill their prescriptions as pharmacies are experiencing shortages of Adderall, Focalin, Concerta and other medications prescribed to treat ADHD.

Prior to the pandemic, approximately six million American children ages 3 to 17 were diagnosed with ADHD, with 62 percent of these children receiving medication as treatment, according to data from the CDC. 

As University students approach final exams, students with ADHD attempting to refill their prescriptions of Adderall, Focalin, Concerta or other ADHD medications may find that their pharmacy is experiencing a shortage of their medication. 

Dr. Kate Naper is a clinical manager for outpatient pharmacy and transitions of care at UNC Hospitals. She said the fluctuations in supply can be attributed to a variety of factors like manufacturing delays, a shortage active ingredients and increased demand.

“[The shortage] most directly impacts the immediate release formulations," she said. "So, some patients have therefore had to turn to other therapies and use them, which increases that demand, so then those medications too can be on shortage.” 

Since the Franklin Street CVS shut down over the summer, pharmacies in the Chapel Hill area have been struggling with this exact issue. They are unable to meet the needs of all their customers due to the limitations that the Drug Enforcement Administration has on how much a pharmacist can order of a particular substance. 

“It’s super hard, especially in college, to get a three-month long prescription, which I have been able to do in the past,” a student at the University said. “But now it is really hard to find a pharmacy with a three-month long supply.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, Adderall prescriptions increased to 41.4 million in 2021, a jump of about 10.4 percent. During the pandemic, companies like Cerebral, which offer online therapy for anxiety, depression and insomnia, prescribed medications such as Adderall via virtual health care. 

However, this is no longer an option for many. Some major pharmacies like Walmart and CVS announced they will no longer be filling prescriptions from Cerebral and Done. — another online-based company helping treat patients with ADHD. 

Demand for drugs like Adderall have increased in the last few years, while ADHD diagnoses have become more frequent. A labor shortage at Teva Pharmaceuticals, which is a large producer of Adderall, has also played a large role in the shortage. 

Kristen Rademacher, an ADHD and learning disability specialist at the University's Learning Center, gave advice for students who might be unable to get their medication in time for exams. 

“The work that the Learning Center provides for students is to find strategies that are really going to be helpful for students on a variety of fronts, knowing that not all strategies are going to be a good fit for all students,” Rademacher said. 

When students tell her they are medicated for ADHD, Rademacher said she tries to help them understand that medication will not resolve all of their problems. While it can be helpful, it doesn’t tell students what to focus on or prioritize, she said. 

“In light of the shortage of Adderall, the second part of the message is what else are you going to do — whether you take medication or not — to support yourself, to create structure, to create strategy, to try to optimize your attention and focus and therefore optimize your entire academic life,” she said. 

Rademacher suggests that students struggling to fill their prescriptions visit the Learning Center and speak with a coach to find different strategies for success. 

“I think that those are important considerations for students to have at any time," she said. "But particularly now when the unfortunate situation is happening with Adderall.” 


CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Dr. Kate Naper's surname. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

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