Seven months into the nationwide shortage of Adderall, pharmacist Steve Moore still gets phone calls every day from people with ADHD asking whether he has the medication in stock. He’ll occasionally get out-of-town visitors, too.
“It’s a pretty far drive,” said Moore, who owns Condo Pharmacy in Plattsburgh, New York, a small city just south of the Canadian border.
But Moore has to turn them away. Some doses aren’t expected to be available until mid-May at the earliest, a month later than earlier estimates, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s drug shortage database.
“Obviously, I want to help everybody I can,” Moore said, “but if I know I’ve got three patients who need this particular product, I’m really trying to make sure that the patients we know are coming in have what they need.”
The FDA first confirmed a nationwide shortage of Adderall in October, after a surge in demand for the attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder drug during the coronavirus pandemic. Although supply problems have improved since then, some pharmacies say they are still unable to keep the drug or its generic versions in stock.
The supply problem means people with ADHD who need the drug are forced to turn to different medications or wait several weeks to get their prescriptions.
“We mainly receive calls from people asking if we have the medication in stock, and we have to tell them that we don’t,” said Mike Koelzer, a pharmacist and the owner of Kay Pharmacy in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Koelzer said the shortage has hurt his business financially because he doesn’t have enough supply for his regular customers, forcing them to seek the drug elsewhere.
Sometimes his pharmacy will provide other ADHD medications, but even those medications, like Ritalin, are in short supply too.
People are often frustrated and worried, Koelzer added, when they aren’t able to find the medication they need.
“We don’t have good answers for them other than to keep checking back or to try another pharmacy,” he said. “It’s been a difficult situation for both us and our customers.”
How long will the shortage last?
The supply problem could persist for few more weeks or longer. According to the FDA’s drug shortage database, some doses of a generic version of Adderall, from the drugmaker Alvogen, are expected to be in short supply until later this month or mid-May. Granules Pharmaceuticals, another generic manufacturer of Adderall, isn’t expected to have it available until May, according to the agency.
Teva Pharmaceuticals, the country’s largest supplier of the brand name Adderall, said in a statement that it isn’t experiencing manufacturing issues or shortages but noted that some pharmacies and patients in the U.S. could experience “intermittent delays” in getting the medication. NBC News has reached out to all 10 companies that list shortages of the drug in the FDA database.
Michael Ganio, the senior director of pharmacy practice at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which tracks drug shortages, said the organization first heard about the supply problems for Adderall about a year ago.
At the time, he said, manufacturers attributed the issue to a lack of workers, and since then, they have tried to ramp up production, to varying results.
Further complicating matters is that Adderall is a controlled substance regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which sets limits on how much of the active ingredient drugmakers are allowed to produce in a given time frame. Drugmakers must get approval from the DEA before they go over their quotas, he said.
“It is very difficult to evaluate the increase in demand, which has been a challenge for manufacturers,” he said, adding that some drugmakers have paused selling the drugs to new customers.
In the meantime, pharmacies are adapting. CVS Health and Walgreens said they are aware of the shortages and are continuing to work with suppliers or patients to help meet the demand.
“Our pharmacists will work with patients who are prescribed this medication as needed,” Matt Blanchette, a spokesperson for CVS Health, said in a statement.
Other pharmacies will have to keep turning patients away.
Benjamin Jolley, a pharmacist and the manager of Jolley’s Compounding Pharmacy in Salt Lake City, said the pharmacy isn't taking on any new customers.
He was able to buy 10 bottles of Adderall on Wednesday morning, the first time he had been able to buy it in two weeks.
“The wholesaler texted me and said: ‘Hey, we’ve got some if you want it. Go buy it right now.’”
The purchase means the dozen or so people who get the medication at his pharmacy will be able to get their prescriptions filled.
"It's a hard-to-come-by product," Jolley said.