Several bottles of prescription medicine are laying flat against a bright green background.

The shortage of prescription drug Adderall has yet to bounce back following the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement of the nationwide deficit in October 2022. As a result, other ADHD medications including as Focalin, Ritalin and Vyvanse are in short supply.

Adderall is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Drug producers expected they would be able to catch up following a temporary labor shortage, but patients are still struggling to fill their prescriptions. The surge of ADHD diagnoses of adults during the COVID-19 pandemic also fuels current shortages. Many are left wondering how this will affect their health.

“Patients should be able to take a break from the medication with little disruption,” says Michael Layne, MD, Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine at EVMS, “It is actually not uncommon for patients prescribed Adderall to take a ‘pill holiday’ on weekends and vacation when intense focus is not required.” 

If patients are forced to abruptly stop Adderall, they may experience irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue, headaches, depressed mood or difficulty concentrating. Withdrawal symptoms, Dr. Layne says, are undesirable but not generally considered dangerous.

There are safe alternatives if the shortage should continue. Other stimulant medications like Concerta may be effective if Adderall is not available or covered by health insurance.

For many patients, however, a non-stimulant may be preferable due to intolerable side effects of stimulant medications, heart disease, coexisting depression or a history of substance dependency or addiction. Patients with a history of substance abuse or a significant cardiac history may be wise to discuss non-stimulant alternatives for their attention deficit with their healthcare provider. 

A variety of non-stimulant medications are available as well. For adults with co-existing depression, Buproprion (commonly known as Wellbutrin) may be a good fit. The medication atomoxetine can be effective for patients of all ages seeking non-stimulant treatment or who are intolerant to the side effects of traditional stimulants. Under certain circumstances children may be prescribed clonidine, also used to treat high blood pressure in adults.

The first step, Dr. Layne says, is to seek out a physician or healthcare provider with experience diagnosing and treating ADHD. He says the best way to decide on an alternative to Adderall is to discuss your care with a provider familiar with your challenges and goals of therapy.

To learn more about ADHD and alternatives to Adderall or to make an appointment with Dr. Layne, contact EVMS Family and Community Medicine.