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February 27, 2024

Prescriptions for ADHD Medications Skyrocket During Pandemic, Causing National Shortages

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Jan 12, 2024

Prescriptions for ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin have increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to national shortages that are impacting patients and families. A new study published this week in JAMA Network Open found that monthly prescriptions for ADHD medications jumped by over 1 million during the first year of the pandemic compared to 2019. This unprecedented rise in demand has made it difficult for many to access their critical medications.

14% Increase in ADHD Prescriptions During Pandemic

According to the JAMA study, there was a 14% increase in prescriptions for ADHD drugs from mid-March 2020 to mid-March 2021 compared to the previous year. This amounts to over 1.4 million additional prescriptions issued during the first 12 months of the pandemic.

The increase was seen across all age groups but was particularly pronounced among adults. Prescriptions for adults rose by over 15% year-over-year while prescriptions for children increased by nearly 11%.

Within the adult demographic, women ages 26-39 saw the biggest jump at over 30%. Experts theorize this may be due in part to women bearing the brunt of increased childcare and household responsibilities during lockdowns.

Factors Contributing to Increased Demand

Researchers cite several factors that likely contributed to more people seeking ADHD assessment and medication during the pandemic:

  • Disruption of normal routines and structure
  • Transition to remote work/learning environments
  • Increased stress, anxiety, depression
  • More time for self-reflection about longstanding issues

For those predisposed to ADHD, these pandemic-related lifestyle changes may have exacerbated attention deficits and hyperactivity symptoms that had previously gone unnoticed or managed without medication.

Additionally, the lack of regimented schedules and in-person accountability caused many to struggle with organization, time management, and task initiation – common areas of impairment associated with ADHD.

National Shortages Leading to Difficulties Accessing Medication

As more people have sought pharmacological treatment for ADHD during the pandemic, reduced manufacturing capacity combined with supply chain issues have made it difficult for pharmacies and providers to meet the rapidly escalating demand.

Shortages of popular ADHD medications like Adderall XR and Concerta have been reported nationwide, with over 40 states affected as of October 2022. These shortages have significantly impacted patients:

  • Up to 72% of pharmacies had difficulty filling prescriptions for ADHD medications in 2022
  • Some patients are being given smaller pill counts or having to refill more frequently
  • Many are having to call multiple pharmacies to have prescriptions filled
  • Some have had to switch medications, adjust doses/timing, or go without
Percent Increase in ADHD Prescription Volume During Pandemic
14% overall
11% children
15%+ adults
30%+ women ages 26-39

For those who rely on these stimulant medications to function effectively with their ADHD, inconsistent access has had a major impact on their daily lives. Adults describe struggling to do their jobs effectively while parents note worsening behavioral and academic issues for their children.

Healthcare providers are also reporting difficulties getting access for initial ADHD evaluations and titrating medications for newly diagnosed patients due to the shortages.

Calls for Increased Awareness & Treatment of Adult ADHD

While the pandemic-related surge in adult ADHD diagnoses has compounded shortages, experts note it has brought increased awareness to the prevalence of undiagnosed and untreated ADHD in adults.

Studies estimate up to 4.4% of adults have ADHD yet few seek clinical assessment or treatment. The recent uptick in adults pursuing ADHD care has highlighted significant gaps, including:

  • A lack of clinical practice guidelines specifically for diagnosing and treating adult ADHD
  • Inadequate training for providers around recognizing ADHD presentations in adults
  • Limited access to behavioral therapy and coaching tailored to adult ADHD

Patient advocacy groups are calling for increased resources to improve assessment and expand treatment options for adults with ADHD in light of the growing unmet need exposed by the pandemic’s impact.

Addressing these systemic gaps in adult ADHD care will ensure improved outcomes beyond the current crisis precipitated by pandemic-related medication shortages.

Looking Ahead

While prescription drug manufacturers are working to increase production, constraints on certain formulation components and generic ingredients may continue to pose challenges to meeting demand in the near-term. However, therapeutic shortages are expected to improve over the course of 2024 if pandemic-induced usage and prescribing trends stabilize.

In the meantime, pharmacies and providers are developing bridging strategies to ensure continuity of care for patients impacted by shortages, including national databases to locate supplies of scarce medications. Continued momentum around early screening and interventions for adult ADHD will also help stabilize demand at more sustainable levels long-term.

With increased vigilance around supply chain issues and a more accurate understanding of adult ADHD prevalence, the healthcare system can adapt to build resiliency against future shortages. The spotlight the pandemic has shone on ADHD assessment and treatment shortfalls will pave the way for better serving this often overlooked population.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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