A red-tinted photo shows pills scattered on a flat surface.
Illustration: PGN

One year after the FDA announced a nationwide shortage of Adderall, a brand-name stimulant medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions, the ADHD medication shortage continues. With the 2024 school year in full swing, millions of school-age children continue to face challenges in and out of the classroom.

Here’s what students and parents need to know about the ongoing ADHD medication shortage this fall and winter.

Why is there still a shortage of ADHD medications?

The FDA announced in August that many factors led to the ADHD medication shortage that began a year ago, including one drug maker’s manufacturing delays and “record-high prescription rates of stimulant medications.”

Millions of U.S. adults and children are prescribed ADHD medications, which increase dopamine levels in the brain to improve focus. The use of prescription drugs to manage ADHD doubled between 2006 and 2016, and between 2020 and 2021, the percentage of people who were prescribed ADHD medication increased by more than 10 percent in some age groups.

While these trends have raised concerns about ADHD medications being overprescribed or misused by people without ADHD, doctors say that, overall, increased awareness about ADHD has led to an uptick in diagnoses and prescriptions.

Drug manufacturers must notify the FDA of a shortage. However, they are not required to disclose the cause of the shortage, so the reasons behind the manufacturing delays are unclear. Here’s what we know: In 2022, manufacturers of amphetamine medications produced 1 billion fewer doses than they were permitted to make by the Drug Enforcement Agency, and they did not meet their quotas in 2020 or 2021.

In December of 2022, a large opioid settlement between three pharmaceutical distributors and most states put additional restrictions on Schedule II controlled substances, which Adderall and other ADHD medications fall under. This has made it even more difficult for patients to fill prescriptions.

How long is the shortage expected to go on?

We don’t know when the shortage will end, but experts warn that the shortage could last through the end of 2023. In August, the FDA approved several generic versions of Vyvanse, one of the most prescribed and effective alternatives to Adderall, which is expected to ease the shortage.

What can parents do to help students who are struggling to access their medication?

As the shortage continues, patients continue to struggle to fill their prescriptions. If your usual pharmacy is unable to fill your child’s prescription, check with other local pharmacies to see if the medication is available and ask your doctor to send your prescription there.

You can also talk to your doctor about skipping doses on days when your child is not at school or switching to an alternative ADHD medication if their usual medication is not readily available nearby.

If your child does not already have ADHD accommodations in the classroom, talk to their school about an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which can provide education services to meet your child’s unique needs and support their learning. 

Some accommodations IEPs can provide include: 

  • Extra time on tests. 
  • Instructions for assignments that are tailored to your child. 
  • Access to assistive technology, such as recording or note-taking devices.
  • Tutoring or one-on-one time with teachers. 
  • Assistance taking notes. 
  • Breaks during the day for movement. 
  • Changes to the environment that limit distractions. 

If your child already has an IEP, talk to their school about providing additional accommodations during times when their medication is inaccessible.

College students can talk to their school’s disability office about accessing ADHD accommodations. Some accommodations colleges can provide include: 

  • Extra time on tests and assignments.
  • A separate testing environment.
  • Permission to record lectures.
  • Assistance taking notes.
  • Written instructions from professors.

Creating a supportive environment at home can also help students with ADHD manage their symptoms. The National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends that parents of children with ADHD:

  • Provide positive reinforcement.
  • Create and maintain a regular schedule.
  • Encourage movement and sleep. 

Therapy can also help children and students manage the frustration they may feel during an uptick in ADHD symptoms. For more information, talk to your health care provider.

For more information, talk to your or your child’s health care provider.