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

The number of prescriptions for stimulants to treat ADHD surged during the pandemic, especially among adults.

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


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

Adderall, a common ADHD medication, has been in short supply for several months due to high demand.

In recent decades, ADHD diagnoses have increased and prescriptions of stimulant drugs to treat this neurodevelopmental disorder are also on the rise. The new report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the demand for this drug and similar drugs has increased recently.

In the period between 2016 and 2020 the percentage of people who filled a prescription to buy a stimulant drug remained relatively stable. In 2021, prescriptions filled by most age groups increased more than 10%.

The CDC's analysis of private insurance records reveals that in 2021 more than 4% (up from 3.8%) of those aged 5 to 64 filled a prescription. Most people prescribed stimulant medication have ADHD or are being treated to treat symptoms.

ADHD is more common in boys and usually diagnosed during childhood. The CDC found that the most stimulant prescriptions are for boys aged 5 to 19 years.

The largest increases will be among women, particularly those in their 20s or 30s.

There is a growing awareness of ADHD among adults. However, there is no playbook that can be used to treat adults.

Researchers say that the gap in adult guidance is a concern for public health, in part due to the "general insufficient access to mental healthcare providers trained to diagnose ADHD and manage it."

They wrote: 'Development and implementation of clinical recommendations to diagnose and manage adult ADHD may help guide the safe and appropriate prescribing of stimulants.

Although stimulants may offer a'substantial benefit' to people with ADHD there are potential harms such as misuse and overdose. CDC data show that in 2021 nearly 33,000 people were killed by an overdose involving a stimulant. The primary drug is methamphetamine, but the deaths have almost doubled since 2019.

The rapid rise in stimulant prescriptions during the pandemic raises concerns about the role of Telehealth.

Access to telehealth could have helped remove barriers during the pandemic and encouraged people to seek treatment, especially at a time of heightened mental health challenges.

Researchers say that it could also have led to a greater risk of inadequate evaluations and inappropriate stimulant prescriptions.

They wrote that 'Evaluation could be used to identify the benefits and harms associated with policies implemented during pandemic'.

Some people who take stimulants to treat ADHD struggle for months before they can fill their prescriptions.

On October 12, 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that Adderall would be in short supply. The FDA noted that they were in contact with all the manufacturers of amphetamine salts, and that one company was experiencing 'ongoing intermittent manufacturing delays'. The agency stated that although other manufacturers continue to produce the drug, there is not enough supply to meet the U.S. demand through these producers.

Jim McKinney told CNN in the last month that manufacturing delays have been resolved, and the shortage now is 'demand-driven'.

The FDA has listed eight manufacturers who have reported Adderall shortages. For some versions, the website gives the reason for the shortage, such as "demand increased" or "shortage active ingredient", but for others, it simply says 'other', or does not give any reason.