Prescriptions for ADHD treatments surged during the Covid-19 pandemic, CDC report shows


Prescriptions for stimulants often used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder spiked during the pandemic, especially among adults, a new Study found.

The discovery comes as a common ADHD treatment, Adderall, has been in shortage for months, due to high demand.

Diagnoses for ADHD have become more common in recent decades, and prescriptions for the stimulant medications that are often used to treat neurodevelopmental disorders are on the rise as well. But a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights a recent surge in demand for the drug and others like it.

Between 2016 and 2020, the share of the population filling stimulant drug prescriptions remained relatively stable. But there was a big increase in 2021, with prescription fillings increasing by more than 10% in most age groups.

Overall, the CDC analysis of private insurance records shows that more than 4% of people aged 5 to 64 filled a prescription for a stimulant in 2021, up from 3.8% in 2020. Most people prescribed stimulant medications are being treated for an ADHD diagnosis or symptoms of the disorder.

ADHD is typically recognized in childhood and has been more prevalent among boys, and the CDC analysis found that stimulant prescriptions were consistently most common among boys ages 5 to 19.

However, the largest annual increases in 2021 occurred among adults, especially women in their 20s and 30s.

There are well-established clinical guidelines for ADHD care for children and adolescents, with an outline of symptoms that show a persistent pattern of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity. While there is a growing recognition of ADHD in adults, a comparable playbook for adults does not exist.

According to the researchers, the gap in guidance for adults is a public health concern due to “generally inadequate access to mental health providers trained to diagnose and manage ADHD.”

“Development of clinical recommendations for the diagnosis and management of adult ADHD may help determine safe and appropriate stimulants,” they wrote.

While stimulants can provide “substantial benefits” for people with ADHD, there are potential harms, including misuse and overdose. CDC data shows that nearly 33,000 people will die in 2021 from an overdose involving a psychostimulant. Methamphetamine is the primary drug involved, but deaths have nearly doubled since 2019.

The sharp increase in prescriptions of stimulant drugs during the pandemic also calls into question the role of telehealth.

Expanded access to telehealth during the pandemic could remove barriers and encourage more people to seek care, especially at a time when mental health struggles have intensified.

But according to the researchers, it could also introduce a greater potential for inadequate assessment or inappropriate stimulant prescribing.

“Evaluating policies implemented during the pandemic can identify the benefits and harms of those policies,” they wrote.

Some people who use stimulants for ADHD struggle for months to get their prescriptions filled.

The US Food and Drug Administration announced a shortage of Adderall on October 12, 2022. The agency noted that it was in communication with all manufacturers of amphetamine compound salts and that one of those companies was “experiencing intermittent manufacturing delays.” Although other manufacturers continued to produce the drug, the agency said, “there is not sufficient supply through those producers to meet US market demand.”

Jim McKinney, a spokesman for the agency, told CNN last month that the construction delay has been resolved and that the shortfall is now “demand-driven.”

On its website, the FDA lists eight manufacturers that have reported Adderall shortages to the agency. The website lists reasons for the shortage of some versions of the drug, such as “increased demand” or “shortage of active ingredient”, but for other versions, it just says “other” or gives no reason.

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