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There's a nationwide shortage of Adderall even as prescriptions reach an all-time high

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's a shortage of Adderall across the country. That's the drug used to treat ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And this supply problem comes at a time when prescriptions for the drug have climbed to record highs over the past year. Ike Swetlitz covers biotech and health for Bloomberg News. He's been reporting on this story and joins us now.

Thanks so much for being with us.

IKE SWETLITZ: Yeah. Thank you.

SIMON: How is the shortage manifesting?

SWETLITZ: Yeah. So patients are showing up to the pharmacy, and they expect to pick up the prescription, and it's not there. Or maybe they're calling into the pharmacy to get it. They need a new prescription every month. And the pharmacy is saying that they don't have it, and they don't know when it's going to be in stock.

SIMON: What's the problem?

SWETLITZ: Well, the problem started a little bit ago with a labor shortage at Teva, which is the company that sells the most Adderall in the United States. They couldn't keep up with all the production and fell behind. That sort of spread throughout the market then into other products. So soon after, several other manufacturers were reporting that the products were on backorder. You know, if they're on backorder from the manufacturers, that means they can't get to the pharmacy.

SIMON: Demand has gone up for Adderall in recent years, I gather.

SWETLITZ: Yeah. And that's been driven, you know, by an increase in diagnoses, so more and more people who are getting prescribed the medicine.

SIMON: Now, pharmaceutical companies usually like to hear that. You know, they see it as an economic opportunity. Did these companies not prepare for an increase?

SWETLITZ: Well, the amount of Adderall that's been dispensed at the pharmacy has been increasing every year pretty steadily. One of the challenges with Adderall is that it's a controlled substance. So there's a little more regulation involved in changing the amount of drug that you manufacture. In this event, it's not so much that you can just say, well, let's double production at this plant. There's little more that goes into it than that.

SIMON: Yeah. As you note, people who take Adderall typically take it every day. What are they doing to cope?

SWETLITZ: Yeah. So some people are just going without. You know, they're not doing as well at their jobs. They're not really able to, you know, keep up as much in professional and personal relationships. Some people I've talked to are trying to compensate with other sort of stimulants, you know, drinking a lot of coffee, energy drinks - people I've talked to who have thought about, you know, going to the black market. There's a lot of Adderall being sold out there on the streets. Some of it isn't really Adderall. Some of it's actually fentanyl. A lot of the drugs that are being sold on the streets are not really what people think they are. So that's not a safe or a good thing. But I think it really demonstrates the severity of the situation, you know, that people are thinking about doing that.

SIMON: Are there safe pharmaceutical alternatives?

SWETLITZ: There are different medications that people can take with ADHD. There are many challenges with that. One is that different medications work well for some people and don't work well for other people. The other challenge is you can't just go to the pharmacy and get a different drug. You would have to go back to your doctor and get a new prescription for it.

SIMON: Right. Yeah.

SWETLITZ: So that could be possible for some people. It really depends on their relationship with their doctor, and it depends on whether or not that other drug would work for their particular condition.

SIMON: Are manufacturers trying to get the supply back on track?

SWETLITZ: Oh, yeah. The manufacturers told me, you know, that the labor shortage at Teva has been resolved. And Teva's have told me that the sort of residual issues are just the sort of aftereffects of that and that they're actively manufacturing and getting the drug out there.

SIMON: Ike Swetlitz covers biotech and health for Bloomberg News.

Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

SWETLITZ: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.