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Ongoing ADHD medication shortage challenges Chicagoans

Since the 2023 FDA update addressing the continued shortage of prescription stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta, those prescribed ADHD medications have experienced intermittent difficulties obtaining their prescriptions and coping without them.

Dr. Urooj Yazdani, a psychiatrist at AFG Guidance Center in Northfield, said she has noticed the shortage since the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s something that child psychiatrists, and psychiatrists in general, have been aware of for some time,” she said. The shortage hasn’t affected her interactions with her patients or how she diagnoses them. However, it’s been inconvenient for those who need ADHD medication.

Lily Zimmerman, a freshman vocal performance major at Columbia College Chicago, has been taking Adderall for ADHD for roughly three-and-a-half years. “After I got diagnosed and after I got prescribed, it actually helped tremendously,” she said. “I was able to function a lot better and just get things done.” 

Lily Zimmerman, 19, sits in Harold Washington Library. | Photo by Jashiya Maynard-Woods.

When she is unable to get her medication, she said she is more jittery and anxious. “I have a really hard time involving myself,” she said. “My brain just runs like a mile a minute.”

A 23-year-old Chicago-based soccer trainer and coach, who asked to remain anonymous, has been taking the ADHD medication Ritalin since he was 17. Before he went on the medication, he struggled to concentrate and stay focused in school and on his extracurricular activities. “It’s hard to live a life when you’re always forgetting things,” he said. “You’re not able to keep track of and stay on top of everything.” 

Since taking the medication, he has seen a stark difference in his behavior. “I’ve been able to stay on task for longer,” he said, “especially if it’s a more boring or repetitive task that I don’t really want to be doing.”

Zimmerman said her Adderall prescription provides her with a sense of security and routine, so when the shortage first started, adjusting to the change was difficult. “Almost every time I had a refill, they almost never had it in stock,” she said. “That was just getting to be really hard.” 

She eventually was able to switch her prescription to a local pharmacy that had a more reliable supply. 

Yazdani said that there are no consistent trends about which ADHD medications are in short supply. Rather, she said, it “ebbs and flows,” but local and boutique pharmacies are more likely to have a consistent supply of ADHD medications than chain pharmacies, like CVS or Walgreens. She advised patients to ask their psychiatrist’s office to call ahead to see if their pharmacy has the medication in stock, and to have a contingency plan of two or three other pharmacies if it doesn’t. 

“I really do hope that there is a better and bigger solution,” Zimmerman said. “[Adderall] has been such a big tremendous impact… I really do hope that they can figure it out.”

However, there isn’t much that can be done, according to Dr. Yazdani.

“It’s not the patient’s fault. It’s not the prescriber’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s just kind of a perfect storm that occurred, and now we’re kind of left with a deficiency,” she said.

Additional reporting by Isaiah Ayala.

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