How To Navigate The Adderall Shortage If Your Kid Has ADHD

What to do if you can’t find a pharmacy that has your child’s ADHD medication in stock.

Originally Published: 
A child struggles to do his homework as his dad helps.

In October 2022, the FDA announced an Adderall shortage. While the exact extent of the shortage is unclear, it is having an impact across the nation. A large part of the reason for the deficit of this popular ADHD drug was a massive surge in prescriptions in the past three years — from 35.5 million to 45 million between 2019 and 2022. This, plus “supply chain problems” (the root of the problem is still not entirely clear) have led to a crisis without a clear end date. For parents and kids with ADHD, there’s an understandable panic.

First, parents and physicians have been scrambling to secure Adderall, and its alternatives, for kids who rely on it to help manage their ADHD symptoms. After the shortage of short-acting Adderall was announced, the long-acting version and other stimulants used to treat ADHD have come into short supply too. "We have also seen regular methylphenidate, which is Ritalin, in the immediate release and the long-acting as well," says Dr. Colleen Kraft, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. The shortage also includes two other brands of long-acting methylphenidate: Concerta and Metadate CD.

When a child doesn’t have access to their ADHD medication, it doesn’t take long for many to experience a resurgence of their symptoms. When Kristina Yiaras’s 8-year old son, for example, had to stop taking his medication because the family couldn’t find it anywhere within a 50 mile radius of their Georgia home, “He was back to getting in trouble every day, getting up out of his seat," Yiaras told NPR. “The teachers immediately noticed that he was off of it.”

There’s also concern about children having withdrawal symptoms when they temporarily quit taking the medication — and other symptoms when they begin taking it again. “Those who jump back into taking a large dose of the medication without incrementally working toward it from smaller doses may feel jittery and restless; some may even have heart palpitations,” Anish Dube, M.D., chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Children, Adolescents and Their Families, told the New York Times.

It’s a serious crisis, and it’s not one parents have the capacity to solve. There’s no shame in the fact that it’s impossible for any amount of parenting to make up for ADHD medication. The fact is, many kids will suffer at the hands of the shortage. Therapy will likely be needed, as will extra communication between families and physicians and therapists.

But until the shortage is over, there are some steps parents can take to help weather the storm. Here, Dr. Kraft offers a few points for how parents can help their children through the ADHD medication shortage.

How To Navigate The ADHD Medication Shortage

Before you spend the time going to your pharmacy to fill your normal prescription — or meet with a physician to renew a prescription — make sure they have the ADHD medication you need in stock, Kraft says. If none of the pharmacies in your area have the medication your child is taking, see if your pediatrician can prescribe an alternative medication that your pharmacy does have in stock. It may not work exactly the same or be quite as effective, but it could still help your child manage their ADHD symptoms.

Brush Up On The Basic Things You Can Control

Kids with ADHD have an easier time focusing when they have structure and habits that facilitate organization, Kraft says.

ADHD medication may make it easier for children to, say, remember to put their papers into a folder or pack their bookbag at night so it’s ready for school the next morning. Parents can help children with ADHD to do this by setting reminders and giving rewards. Having this sort of organization puts kids with ADHD in the best position to take on the tasks of the day.

“Some things are very basic and very important: three meals a day with protein, with complex carbohydrates, not over-doing simple sugars. Having a bedtime routine that consists of reading and no screens within two hours before going to bed. And going to bed at a reasonable time,” Kraft says. “Similarly, for younger kids who have a lot of extra energy in them, making sure that they get some exercise every day. That could just be playing outside or riding a bike. Getting their body active is really something that helps keep their mind sharp and in focus.”

Routines Are Crucial

“You have to look at routines both in the school and outside of school,” Kraft says. “In the school, accommodations include preferential seating, which means sitting with kids who are good role models and maybe not with your friends who distract you, having extra time for tests or quizzes, having a quiet place for quizzes or a quiet place to finish up work.

“At home, having a place for your bookbag, having a place where you do your homework, having a routine. So after school, you maybe play outside, then have a snack or dinner, and then sit down to do homework — something where that child knows that this is what's going to happen in the course of that day. If they are in an afterschool program, those often will structure their activities for them. But families can do that as well.

“As long as their day is structured, kids know what to expect, and that helps them with their overall organizational strategies.”

Don’t Go Around Your Pharmacy

“[Going to the black market] would really be something I would tell parents not to do,” Kraft says. “What we're finding on the black market is that these medications are not these medications. Many of the stimulant medications are actually meth — not a good thing to give to your child or yourself. Many of the drugs that are bought illegally are now laced with fentanyl, which has been very dangerous and has killed a number of our teenagers.”

“Do not look on the black market for medications. I would say that if they cannot find Adderall or Ritalin, or other forms of methylphenidate, there are some other options out there, both short-acting and long-acting medications. Families should call their pharmacy, see which ones are available, then talk with their doctor about which one might be equivalent to the medication that their child is already on.”

See A Therapist

“A therapist can be very helpful, whether a family has access to medication or not,” says Kraft. “It is just as important to develop positive habits for kids with ADHD — habits that will benefit the child for their entire life. So a therapist who can help a child identify and implement better organizational skills, or a good recognition and response to when they are feeling stressed, is an important part of treatment.”

If your child doesn’t already have a therapist, you can find one by looking through your insurance provider’s list, the Psychology Today directory, a recommendation from a friend whose child has ADHD, a specialty organization such as Therapy for Black Girls, or the CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) directory.

Don’t Forget Self-Care (For Yourself)

ADHD medicine is incredibly effective, and trying to guide a child who benefits from these meds can be frustrating and sometimes seemingly impossible when they don’t have access to them. In essence, many parents are waiting out the shortage — and while doing so, it will be essential to find time for themselves, to take a deep breath, vent, and acknowledge their own feelings.

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