ADHD medication will face supply problems until April

The ongoing shortage of ADHD medication is set to continue for several months, a pharmaceutical company has said

21st December 2023 about a 4 minute read
“The UK doesn't have control over our supply of these drugs because the manufacturing is happening in other countries, If one manufacturer for ADHD medications goes down, we have no plan B - we can't be in this situation.” Dr Andrew Hill, pharmacology research fellow, Liverpool University

Supplies of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication will continue to face disruption until April next year, Sky News has reported.

Takeda, a pharmaceutical company and the main producer of ADHD drugs in the UK, told Sky News that it was doing its utmost to resolve the current issues, but that it anticipated “intermittent disruption” to supplies until April 2024.

The NHS has previously said that shortages would be resolved between October and December this year.

ADHD UK, a charity, estimates that about 2.6m people in the UK have ADHD. Medication use has doubled in the last five years, the charity says. The shortages mean that many people who rely on the medication to help manage symptoms are now rationing their tablets, or driving miles to have their prescriptions fulfilled.

The NHS said that the disruption to the supply of ADHD medication is caused by a combination of manufacturing problems and an increase in demand.

Dr Andrew Hill, pharmacology research fellow at Liverpool University, told Sky News that the shortage is also to do with where medication is manufactured, and a failure in “stress-testing” supply chains.

“The UK doesn’t have control over our supply of these drugs because the manufacturing is happening in other countries,” he said. “If one manufacturer for ADHD medications goes down, we have no plan B – we can’t be in this situation.”

One person with ADHD, Georgie Miller, told Sky News that she was diagnosed in 2019 after years of suffering with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

She now relies on taking her medication for the condition on a daily basis to help with her job as an employment lawyer, but the recent shortages have meant that she’s had to drive to pharmacies over two hours away from her home in York to obtain the medication.

“We’ve got to ring pharmacies up all over the country to try and get some, and to take that time out of your day is so hard when you’re trying to work at the same time”, she said.

“In Yorkshire and within York itself, there’s none available, pretty much.”

Wellness firms exploiting medication shortage

The Observer reported this week that wellness firms are exploiting the shortage to push “smart supplements” as an alternative to prescribed drugs.

In some cases, the supplements are being marketed for use in children as young as three. In other cases the firms are promoting them through ADHD “influencers” on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. Claims for their benefits include the ability to improve focus, increase memory, banish brain fog and boost brain power.

Health experts said that the claims lack any robust evidence and could give patients and their families false hope.

Ross Cranham, a moderator for eight ADHD UK support groups on Facebook, told the Observer that he has to block multiple posts per day from people trying to sell unproven treatments. He has previously considered supplements for ADHD and said he could understand why people would be tempted. “People are desperate so it’s like shooting fish in a barrel for these companies,” he said.

Henry Shelford, chief executive of the charity ADHD UK, told the Observer: “We are very concerned that organisations are taking advantage of people in the medication crisis. People with ADHD are desperate for support. They are being failed and these people are taking advantage. It reminds me of the medicine hawkers from the old wild west, giving promises that are alluring and impossible to keep.”

Anita Thapar, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Cardiff University, said: “Unfortunately none of these supplements has a sufficient evidence base currently for it to be considered a treatment. It’s a shame it’s not better regulated because it means that the current situation can be exploited.”

FCC Insight

The supply problems with ADHD medication have now been affecting the UK for several months. Because the manufacturers are in other countries, there appears to be very little that either the NHS or government can do to address the problem. The fact that irresponsible ‘wellness’ firms are exploiting this shortage to peddle ineffective, unevidenced alternatives is worrying, however, and it would be good to see a clampdown on these firms’ use of social media to promote quack medicine. At the same time, policymakers need to be thinking about investigating alternatives to medication, such as digital apps, to manage ADHD symptoms.