Health & Science

Parents of ADHD students concerned how they will fare this school year as medication shortage persists

As supply has decreased, demand has steadily risen in recent years. Since 2012, overall dispensing of stimulants has increased by more than 45 percent in the U.S, according to data from the CDC.


FILE – Adderall XR capsules are displayed on Feb. 24, 2023.

Kate and Ryan Simpson's son was diagnosed with ADHD seven years ago, when he was in kindergarten.

He did not initially take stimulants, which are the typical medication used to treat ADHD, due to his heart condition. Instead, the Simpsons explored therapy and school interventions, while making many trips to Texas Children's Hospital for testing to see if it was safe for their son to take ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

Eventually, he got the green light.

"It was a years-long process to get it approved by the cardiologist, and we finally got him on Focalin [a stimulant] about a year ago," Ryan said. "It has made quite a difference."

He said his son had a difficult transition from a Montessori elementary school to a more traditional middle school, where he is currently about to enter seventh grade. The new medication has helped him focus and stay on-task.

"It kind of levels him out a little bit and keeps him more constant," Ryan said.

However, due to the recent nationwide shortage of stimulant medications for ADHD, the Simpsons' son has not had access to his medicine since the end of June.

The shortage began in October 2022, when Teva, a major drug producer that manufactures Adderall, announced it was experiencing significant manufacturing delays.

Meanwhile, as supply has decreased, demand has steadily risen in recent years. Since 2012, overall dispensing of stimulants has increased by more than 45 percent in the U.S, according to data from the CDC.

The Drug Enforcement Administration sets limits on the quantities of stimulants that can be produced, due to the fact that they have the potential to become addictive if abused. Still, in 2022, manufacturers only produced and sold 70 percent of the quota allotted by the DEA for amphetamine medications. So far, data for 2023 shows a similar trend.

"I think that combination of higher demand and lower availability really just came to a head over the last several months," said Dr. Stan Spinner, chief medical officer at Texas Children's Pediatrics.

The DEA, in conjunction with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is calling on manufacturers to increase production of ADHD medications in order to meet their allotted quota, according to a joint letter released earlier this month.

However, there still does not seem to be any clear end of the shortage in sight.

"It's anyone's guess," said Spinner. "I mean, every time the medical community tries to get some type of commitment from the manufacturers, we're told the same thing: ‘We're working on it.'"

Meanwhile, many parents are struggling to acquire their children's medication and growing more concerned as they begin to go back to school.

The Simpsons spend a large portion of their time calling various pharmacies to find out if their son's medication is in stock, and when it is, they can only get one month's supply at a time.

"One pharmacy said they had Focalin, but since it was the brand name, insurance wouldn't cover it," said Kate.

For 20 days' worth of pills, the pharmacy said the medication would cost $600. Typically, the Simpsons pay less than $15 for a month's supply.

"If I knew this was going to happen, I would've stock-piled it," Ryan said. "Instead of giving it to him during the summer, I would've stock-piled it so he could get through the school year."

Spinner said losing access to ADHD medication can be difficult psychologically for kids who are used to taking it regularly.

"When you have to take it sporadically, you can go from being in good control to suddenly not being in good control, which can be very disruptive for you, for family at home and certainly in a school environment," he said. "When you're struggling with the condition and are on medication that really helps your ability to deal with it and suddenly, that's not available to you anymore, that's really tough psychologically."

When it comes to coping, Spinner urges parents to stay vigilant with seeking out medication, since supplies vary month-to-month.

"Try to find out what pharmacies you can reach out to in order to find a supply, and talk to your physician about, if a particular product your child may have been on is not available, what would be the best option," said Spinner. "There may be one option or there may be several, whether it's going from brand-name to generic or generic to brand-name."

He said knowing what medications may be good alternatives, according to their child's physician, can help parents know what to ask for when contacting pharmacies.

For the time being, Ryan Simpson says his family is taking it day-by-day.

"You know, we have certain expectations of him, and sometimes we have to remind ourselves that he's not on the medication," said Simpson. "I don't know what this school year's going to bring, but for right now, we're just going to have to deal with some of the challenges that these medications typically solve."

Rebecca Noel

Rebecca Noel


Rebecca Noel is a daily reporter at Houston Public Media. She covers a wide range of topics, including state and local government, public health and the Texas electrical grid. Rebecca has also covered Houston-area school districts, including Houston ISD and Katy ISD, some of the largest in the state.Rebecca is...

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