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Adderall Shortage: Here's What to Know

A common ADHD medication was added to the long list of shortages.

Adderall pills lined up neatly against an orange glow
Artisteer/Getty Images

Adderall is one of the most popular brand names of a stimulant commonly prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration confirmed a shortage of it.

There have been a number of product shortages this year, including baby formula, tampons and a variety of foods. In its Oct. 12 announcement, the FDA referenced manufacturing issues as a source of the Adderall issue. But as The New York Times speculates, the rising popularity of online ADHD diagnosis websites could mean more people are also filling prescriptions for Adderall and other stimulant medications. Because of the way drugs like Adderall are regulated, this is also not the first time people have had problems accessing the prescription. 

If this has left you wondering whether you can depend on your next prescription or when you should turn to another medication, here's what we know.

Can I switch brands?

Before switching any medication, it's important to talk to your doctor. And this isn't just a standard statement to cover the bases of what's legal or medically safest: There are different families of stimulants prescribed to treat ADHD, and different chemical combinations cause a different interplay in the brain. This is especially important to consider if you may have another mental health condition. 

Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York, previously told CNET that stimulants like Adderall may exacerbate symptoms of mood disorders, including bipolar disorder. If you believe you have another mental health or neurodevelopmental condition, or have new symptoms of one, it's especially important to make sure you're on an appropriate treatment course that is safe for you.

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What's the difference between Adderall and other ADHD meds?

While your doctor may say it's totally fine to switch to a generic version of Adderall because it contains the same active ingredients, it may not be a good idea to totally switch families of medications, such as from Adderall to Ritalin. While both work by increasing levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, Adderall is an amphetamine/dextroamphetamine and Ritalin is a methylphenidate. That is, they may have similar effects or treat the same condition, but could interfere with other medications you're taking in different ways and have the potential to cause different side effects.

ADHD medications also come in extended-release and immediate-release formulations. If you're having a hard time filling your prescription, you can ask your pharmacist or doctor about a suitable substitute. There are also nonstimulant medications available for ADHD, as well as nonmedication routes to treatment.

The problem with regulating stimulants 

Adderall and similar medications are controlled substances in the US, though you might not have guessed it based on its availability on college campuses and casual perception in modern culture. But because ADHD medications are so regulated, that makes them that much harder to prescribe and dispense.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.