The Great Adderall Shortage

The Great Adderall Shortage

February 29, 2012 12:47 pm 1 comment

Kelly Bourdet writes for Vice Motherboard:

To prevent hoarding of materials and their potential for theft and illicit use, the Drug Enforcement Agency sets quotas for the chemical precursors to drugs like Adderall. The DEA projects the need for amphetamine salts, then produces and distributes the materials to pharmaceutical companies so that they can produce their drugs. But with the number of prescriptions for Adderall jumping 13 percent in the past year, pharmaceutical companies claim that the quotas are no longer sufficient for supplying Americans with their Adderall.

I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t known how these drugs work:

Despite the millions of prescriptions written each year for ADHD, the scientific community isn’t entirely in agreement on how these drugs actually work. Ritalin increases focus and energy through inhibiting the re-uptake of both dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These neurotransmitters then remain in the synapse longer, and their effects are felt in the form of heightened focus and awareness. Adderall, however, works via a slightly different mechanism. While it’s postulated that Adderall also inhibits the re-uptake of these same neurotransmitters, amphetamines also trigger the release of dopamine. This affects the brain’s reward mechanisms, so it’s not only easier to focus on mundane or repetitive tasks, it can also feel positively delightful to do so.

Motherboard: Anatomy of the Great Adderall Drought

The article also goes into some of the shadier aspects of the shortage – such as Shire’s missed shipments to competitors and the creation of its newer, more expensive alternative Vyvanse.

Why so much demand? From a recent Portland Tribune article:

Ritalin and Adderol are commonly prescribed for attention deficit disorder. But a recent study showed that as many as one in four students at an Ivy League university were using one of the two not because they had a diagnosis, but because it helped them study.

And it’s not just the students:

“I’ve had several colleagues say to me, ‘You’re a stupid guy if you’re not using Ritalin to stay up all night.’ You’re much more productive, your career takes off much faster,” says Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California.

Zak isn’t sure that those Ivy League students and his college professor colleagues are doing anything wrong.

“I’m very conflicted,” he says.

And, on the subject Adderall, here’s an interesting paper: When we enhance cognition with Adderall, do we sacrifice creativity? A preliminary study. The study concluded that Adderall might actually improve creativity for those who score poorly on tests of creativity (for some background on creativity testing see here).

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