Speed Limits

Where's the Adderall?

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Since the spring of 2011, patients, doctors, and pharmacists across the country have been reporting shortages of Adderall, a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine that is prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In December The New York Times reported that "hundreds of patients complain daily to the Food and Drug Administration that they are unable to find a pharmacy with enough pills to fill their prescriptions."

The response from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which controls the legal supply of Adderall's active ingredients: Shortage? What shortage? The DEA insists that both its overall ceiling for "amphetamine mixed salts" and its quotas for individual manufacturers have been perfectly adequate to meet the legitimate medical demand.

The manufacturers dis­- agree, saying the DEA is too stingy and too slow to raise quotas in response to their requests. Alternatives to the short-acting, generic Adderall tablets manufactured by Sandoz, Core­Pharma, and Teva—including brand-name Adderall capsules, Ritalin, and various newer stimulants—are substantially more expensive and may not work as well for people who depend on Adderall to focus and function.

"We have reached out to the DEA and told them that there are shortage issues," a Food and Drug Administration official told the Times. "But the quota issues are outside of our area of responsibility."

The DEA, for its part, has two responsibilities that tend to conflict with each other: 1) making sure there is enough Adderall to fill doctors' prescriptions and 2) making sure none of it gets "diverted" to nonmedical use. Studying for an exam under the influence of Adderall, for instance, is considered drug abuse unless the student has an ADHD diagnosis. "We do our best to accomplish both missions," a DEA official told Reuters in January, "and the quota system is part of the process for achieving this."

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