Prescriptions for the ADHD drug Adderall doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data that likely explains the nationwide shortage.
Arrive Health, a health technology company based in Denver, Colorado, estimates the ADHD drug now makes up 2.3 per cent of all prescriptions written in the US.
This is more than double the figure from January 2020 – just before the pandemic started – when the drug made up just one per cent of scripts.
Adderall was officially added to the Food and Drug Administration’s list of drugs in shortage last week, with warnings that it may not be fully available until next year.
The surge in demand has likely occurred for multiple reasons.
Diagnosis of behavioral issues surged during the pandemic, as people struggled to cope with lockdowns and concerns about jobs and financial security were rife.
The move to telehealth appointments – to keep Americans away from hospitals – also made it easier to get prescriptions.
As a result, companies like Done and Cerebral have been scrutinized by officials and investigated for misusing controlled substances by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
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
The above shows the number of prescriptions for Adderall given to age groups by year. It shows under-21s (light green), 22 to 44 year olds (light blue) and over-45s (dark blue)
Adderall was officially recognized as a drug in shortage by the FDA last week. Some fear the supply issues will not be quelled until early 2023 (file photo)
Arrive gathers data from more than 200,000 US health providers that record around 7million transactions each month.
These include both private health care and Medicare customers.
Over a period from February 2020 to September 2022, 14million transactions were recorded for behavioral health prescriptions.
These drugs include medication for attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anti-anxiety, anti-depressants, stimulant therapies, sedatives and antipsychotics.
In total, these drugs make up around one-in-ten prescriptions written each year. This figure remained stable throughout the 32 month study period.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is an amphetamines drug used to help people concentrate and avoid unwanted beahviors.
It was heralded as a ‘game-changer’ when it hit the market back in 1996.
Who takes the drug?
The drug is prescribed for people who are diagnosed with ADHD.
But addiction centers say many otherwise healthy people are taking the drug to help with their work or social life.
How does it work?
It works by boosting levels of ‘feel good hormones’ dopamine and norephinephrine in the brain.
This helps ADHD sufferers to concentrate better and avoids behavioral issues.
How is it taken?
It is available as a fast-acting pill, taken two to three times a day.
Or it can be taken as a long-lasting pill, taken once a day.
These are priced from $12.68 per 30 tablets, or about 42 cents a pill.
What is it like coming off the drug?
People who come off the drug are left in a heightened state of agitation.
They also have slowed brain and body movements, a higher appetite and unusual levels of tiredness.
Figures peaked at 10.6 per cent of total prescriptions in August 2022, a slight increase from its low point at 9.3 per cent in July 2020.
While prescriptions for other drugs remained steady, the demand for Adderall surged.
The drug only made up around one per cent of scripts when the pandemic started. The figure gradually rose throughout 2020 and 2021.
It began to surge in 2022, though. Taking off from around 1.5 per cent in December of 2020 to reaching over two per cent by February.
Adderall is a drug that can be easily abused and its surge of use in the US worries many experts.
It is considered to be a schedule 2 drug by US officials, making it illegal to obtain without a prescription because of its addictive properties.
It is famously abused either as a party drug or by college and high school students hoping for a boost in concentration while they are studying.
The fast-acting pill was introduced to the market in 1996, and boosts hormones like dopamine to help ADHD sufferers manage symptoms.
It can be hard to come off of, though. Officials fear that some will turn to the black market for their supply as pharmacies face shortages.
Shortages of the drug were first reported by suppliers in August.
But the FDA did not raise the alarm until October 12— with supply chains expected to be disrupted until March 2023.
Teva Pharmaceuticals — the biggest US supplier — started running out last year, which it blamed on heightened demand and labor shortages at its factories.
At least five manufacturers are suffering shortages now, the FDA says.
Half of the 14 medications manufactured by Teva, based in Israel, are currently experiencing supply issues which are not expected to abate until March.
Revealing the labor shortage back in August, the company said: ‘We expect full recovery for all inventory orders in the coming weeks, at which point we expect no disruption at pharmacy level.’
Novartis Sandoz — the second-biggest supplier — said it was also struggling to meet demand this week but did not explain why.
Others struggling to fill orders are Alvogen, Epic Pharma, Rhodes Pharma and SpecGX.
Data revealed by Trilliant Health earlier this month found that a large portion of this surge in demand was among Americans between the ages of 22 and 44.