A close-up of white pills arranged in straight lines on a dark surface

In October 2022, the Food and Drug Administration announced a nationwide shortage of the prescription medication Adderall, commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the sleep disorder narcolepsy. With a temporary labor shortage at a major drug producer and increased demand industry-wide, people 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.” 

Representatives from the FDA have recently stated that the supply chain issues with the medication are expected to resolve in the next 30-60 days.

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 are not generally considered dangerous.

There are safe alternatives if the shortage should affect patients through the coming holidays. Other stimulant medications including Ritalin, Vyvanse or Concerta may be effective alternatives if Adderall is not available or covered by health insurance.

For many patients, however, a non-stimulant may be preferred 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, the medication 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 the medication clonidine which is 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.