‘Incredibly disruptive’: National Adderall shortage hits Pitt’s campus

By James Paul, Staff Writer

Some students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, such as Nicholas Lorance, fear they won’t be able to fill their Adderall prescriptions amid a national shortage. Lorance said switching medications from Adderall to alternatives, as he’s done in the past, means taking substitutes that are “actively harmful.”

“Last time I went off [Adderall], I ended up severely depressed. I stopped working, I stopped going to all of my classes — that’s actually why I [took a semester off],” Lorance, a junior and psychology major, said. “I wasn’t making rent. I didn’t have enough for my groceries on a regular basis. Pretty much the only money that I was making enough of regularly was to get my dog food.”

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration reported on Oct. 12 a shortage of the immediate-release formulation of amphetamine mixed salts, according to Pharmacy Practice News, which are used to produce Adderall. The shortage, according to the FDA and drugmakers, is largely due to supply chain disruptions at Teva Pharmaceuticals, the biggest seller of Adderall in the U.S., as well as increased demand due to more prescriptions. Adderall shortages at Teva are set to recover this month or next month, though shortages could roll into January.

Lorance, who couldn’t get his prescription filled at his regular Shop ‘n Save in Southside two weeks ago, said he’s worried that the national shortage will put him “back in that hole again.”

“I’m stuck looking at the choice of either paying hundreds of dollars a month to buy medication or going back on things that I know don’t work and are actively harmful to me,” Lorance said. 

At Pitt, Patrick Pugliese, the pharmacy manager at Student Health Services, said McKesson, Pitt’s largest supplier of Adderall, has limited access to the treatment due to the shortage. Pugliese said the Adderall supply of the University Pharmacy, located at 103 University Place in Nordenberg Hall, has been “constrained but steady.”

“Unfortunately, because it is a national shortage, all of the pharmacy suppliers are affected,” Pugliese said. “Usually, in situations like this, scarce medications are ‘allocated.’ This means that we may only be able to buy one or two bottles at a time.”

Leigh Culley, the director of Disability Resources and Services, said 848 students

are registered with DRS for ADHD as either their primary or secondary disability. 

“DRS would encourage students to refill prescriptions as early as permitted and before their current supply has run out in case there is a delay,” Culley said. “Students may consider consulting with their medical provider to identify an alternative to Adderall.”

Shawna Schwarz, a junior communications and rhetoric major, said she’s taken Adderall for the past five years and is registered with DRS. She said she gets mandatory accommodations from her professors for extended due dates in addition to receiving 25% extended time for tests.

Schwarz said she is yet to feel the brunt of the shortage, though it’s a “very stressful reality to think about.”

“A lot of my assignments are sitting and writing long essays or creating projects and stuff like that. So it’s very much I need to sit and focus,” Schwarz said. “So, [without Adderall] I think I can, to some extent, be accommodated, but like on my part, not even from the school’s part. I would still struggle.”

Schwarz said she is worried that the stigmatization of Adderall as a recreational drug means that her peers won’t be sympathetic to students affected by the shortage. 

“Because if you explain to people, ‘Oh, I need my Adderall to function, then they look at it like, oh, you’re dependent on a drug.’ Yeah, because I have something [ADHD] that needs that medication,” Schwarz said.

Both Schwarz and Lorance take short-acting Adderall. Dr. Maggie Whelan, an assistant professor of psychiatry and a pediatrician at UPMC, said the dynamic schedules of college students make short-acting Adderall a common prescription for them. 

“For college students, if you are somebody that has ADHD and you’re taking long-acting Adderall, but then you have student government meetings in the evening or you have you know, diving practice or baseball practice, the short-acting Adderall is extremely important because that’s what allows them to treat ADHD symptoms in a very strategic way,” Dr. Whelan said.

Whelan said the shortage could be “incredibly disruptive” to Pitt students who stand to lose access to their medication.

“Maybe they were doing great — they’re getting good grades, they’re performing well in their activities, and then all of a sudden you take away this thing that’s really helpful,” Dr. Whelan said. “And you could see people with jobs get poor marks from supervisors. It’s fairly dangerous to take away medicine like this.”

With the shortage expected to last into the winter, Whelan wants the Pitt community to understand that ADHD is real and that Adderall is an effective treatment, not just a study drug.

“Treatment is about having someone achieve their potential and not about giving them some added bonus,” Dr. Whelan said. “It’s about helping somebody do their best with a neuro-developmental disorder, which is what ADHD is.”