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Parents desperate for solutions as children with ADHD struggle with medication shortage

Doctors say the solution isn't as simple as switching to generic versions of some drugs.

HOUSTON — Ryan Simpson said his empathetic and extroverted son, Peter, had to start his first week of 7th grade without the medication he needed to treat his ADHD.

The pills Peter needs to improve his impulse control and help him follow through with tasks have intermittently been out of stock. In fact, it's been a problem for almost a year.

"I can tell he's run down," Ryan said. "You call around to all these other pharmacies, local chain pharmacies, and they say it's on national back order."

In the fall of 2022, the FDA announced a shortage of Adderall specifically. The pandemic created the "perfect storm" that led to the shortage of almost all ADHD medications, including manufacturing delays, supply chain problems, and tight ingredient supplies.

Dr. Cesar Soutullo, a pediatric psychiatrist with UT Health Houston, said during that time, telemedicine allowed doctors to diagnose and treat patients without having to see them first, creating an unexpected spike in demand.

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"Some adults with ADHD that were not diagnosed or not treated in the past have been treated during the pandemic because they couldn't handle some of the situations that were happening at home," Soutullo said.

According to Soutullo, frustrated parents have been calling for months for help tracking down their child's medication. Changing the medicine isn't recommended because sometimes they're not interchangeable. Soutullo also said the right medication is determined through trial and error, so the solution isn't as simple as switching to a generic version.

Soutullo said going without medication, even for a short time, can be devastating.

"Depression and depressive symptoms are very prevalent in kids with ADHD. Many times they think they’re stupid and they can’t do it…. so once that ability to do those things come back, that has a big impact."

Soutullo said parents should call their doctor's office when they have about a two weeks supply left of medication. This will give them ample time to help the family find a pharmacy that can fill their prescription. He also reminds families to encourage behavior therapy for their child and be in contact with their child's school about their health.

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