Back in May, The Observer heard from a web programmer, Brian, who works in Manhattan. He was bemoaning what was beginning to look like a citywide shortage of Adderall, the prescription amphetamine ostensibly prescribed to combat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but which is commonly used by Manhattan professionals to supplement a diet of stimulants—legal or otherwise—that helps them power through the workday. “I had a horror of a time filling my last script. Duane Reade and CVS are both fucked citywide,” he explained.
It seems as if the problem is back.
A quick Google Trends check sees searches for “adderall shortage” increasing 11-fold in the past month. Reports are beginning to surface nationwide: the shortage is wrecking havoc all over the country, and amphetamine-starved denizens are finding themselves out of luck. “Utah families bemoan Adderall shortage,” reads a recent Salt Lake Tribune headline. A local CBS news affiliate out of Grand Rapids, Mich., produced a scare segment with one local pharmacist noting: “We’ve had customers coming in crying.”
Here in New York, Brian, who lives in Kips Bay, was told by Duane Reade that the druggist would be out of 10mg generic amphetamine salts, the off-brand Adderall prescription, for the near future. “There was no possibility of getting an alternate dosage of the same meds without having the doctor issue a new script,” he explained—a problem since he is an uninsured freelancer, and each doctor’s visit for a new prescription was costing him $225. Yet he was saved by “an independent [pharmacy] on 34th Street [that] did the job.” Not everyone is as lucky as Brian is.
A 29-year-old writer friend of The Observer’s, “Melody,” who lives in Soho, has also felt the effects. “For me,” she explained, “the shortage meant that the Duane Reade on Bleecker is stocking a different generic variety than I’m used to. I wondered why the pills looked different, and then when I started taking them, I definitely noticed that they were less effective.”
When Melody called Duane Reade to complain, she was told there was nothing they could do. For her, that’s meant taking more of the generic brand. “Double, pretty much.”
The Food and Drug Administration’s website notes that Shire—the original manufacture of Adderall, which sold the rights for the drug’s instant-release doses in 2006 but continues to produce the time-release tablets they introduced in 2001—is still readily able to produce and fill to “adequate” levels of Adderall XR prescriptions. However, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Global Pharmaceuticals—the manufacturers of Adderall’s generic iterations—are said by the FDA to be experiencing “supply issues,” “increased demand,” “inadequate finished product” and “uneven product distribution patterns” that are hampering distribution.
Duane Reade declined to comment, and inquiries to Teva Pharmaceuticals and Global Pharmaceuticals went unreturned.
In May, The Wall Street Journal chronicled the blame game of the drug shortage, wherein Shire blamed the Drug Enforcement Agency for being slow to approve their latest amphetamine request. The DEA issued a statement in response, saying the company was at fault: “Based upon all of the data that DEA has at this time, manufacturers have sufficient amphetamine quota to provide an uninterrupted supply of products. Manufacturers can request additional quota at any time during the year. The DEA will review their request and provide additional quota, if warranted.”
One conspiracy theory begins with Teva and another generic Adderall manufacturer, Impax, which sued Shire for what they perceived to be an intentional clogging of the pharmaceutical supplies. Shire, who recently gave up on its plan to introduce a nicotine-patchlike form of drug into the market, has seen sales of Vyvanse—Shire’s branded alternative to Adderall, for which it still owns the patent—go up 34 percent in the third financial quarter of 2011. The Irish drug dealers, the thinking goes, are looking for a new revenue stream.
Either way, Brian is prepared. As someone with a “bunker mentality,” he had managed to stockpile enough to keep him well between prescriptions. It may be more expensive, he explained, “but there is nothing more awesome than wiping out nine months of housecleaning guilt with a little blue pill and half of a Saturday morning.”
Melody, for her part, improvised her own alternative. “FYI,” she texted us, “Just found Adderall in Hoboken. Can’t believe I’m taking the PATH for this. Had to call like ten pharmacies.”
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