Managing Medications

What Do You Mean You’re All Out?!?

How parents can proactively prepare for the next ADHD medication shortage.

Blank white medicine bottle on counter with blur shelves of drug in the pharmacy drugstore background

For a brief period in early 2012, the sky was falling in for parents of children with attention deficit disorder. ADHD medication shortages — Ritalin and its generic equivalents, as well as the amphetamine Adderall and its generic forms — popped up in several states. This forced parents to speed-dial doctors and dozens of pharmacies to find the medication their child depends on to manage symptoms.

While some in the media blamed the ADHD medication shortages on the usual suspect — big pharma producing more extended-release formulations that bring them more profit, at the expense of making less expensive generics — some reasonable voices tried to accurately explain why the shortages occurred. William B. Dodson, M.D., who treats adults with ADHD in Greenwood, Colorado, and is a medical advisor to ADDitude, was one of them.

“The extended-release argument doesn’t hold water since the generics are produced and sold by generic manufacturers — not the manufacturers of the brand-name medications,” says Dodson.

“In a nutshell, the shortage occurred because the Drug Enforcement Agency did not take into account, during the [affected] allotment period, the fact that the two biggest selling stimulants — Concerta and Adderall XR — were going generic,” adds Dodson. “The agency didn’t give the generic manufacturers and wholesalers an accurate quota to meet the demand for these new, popular generics.”

Well and good. But what about children not having the meds they need — or parents having to drive 40 miles to a pharmacy several counties away for a month’s worth of Ritalin?

What can parents do the next time the drug quota process breaks down?

These tips may save you worry, time, money, and gas.

  • If a new prescription is written for a child, ask the doctor or nurse to call the pharmacy to see what’s in stock before walking out of the office.
  • Parents taking their child in for a prescription refill should call the pharmacy before their child’s appointment — even in the doctor’s waiting room — to find out whether the store has the child’s prescription in stock and, if so, in what dosage.
  • Before the doctor’s appointment, call around to other pharmacies to see what they have in stock. Doctors can tailor the dose and number of pills based on what’s in stock.
  • If the prescription isn’t in stock, ask your doctor to see if another medication in stock can be substituted.
  • Make sure that the substituted medication is covered by your medical insurance. Some doctors have switched patients to brand-name medications that parents have to pay for out of pocket.