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The Student News Site of the Latin School of Chicago

The Forum

The Student News Site of the Latin School of Chicago

The Forum

Latin School Students Face Challenges Amid ADHD Medication Shortage

A national shortage of ADHD medications is affecting Latin students.
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A national shortage of ADHD medications is affecting Latin students.

For as long as his memory serves, a Latin freshman with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has fidgeted in class. Mindless tasks kept his brain entertained during the monotonous routine of lectures and worksheets. Upon taking medication, though, he stopped fidgeting as much. So he took this prescription every school day. Until it was out of stock.

“I had to ration [my ADHD meds] so I could use it for longer because I could not get it for two or three months,” he said. “I could only take it on days of tests or if I was working really hard on an essay that day.”

Because he was unable to take his medication on most school days, he saw his academic performance decline.

“I felt like I was less focused in class. I was way more tired, [and] I wasn’t focusing on my work as hard as I normally did. My teachers started to notice.”

This student is among many who have had to switch and/or pause their ADHD medications. Around six million children in the United States are diagnosed with ADHD, and prescription medications have long been used to treat the neurodevelopmental disorder, though other non-pharmaceutical therapies are used as well.

His doctor recommended switching to a different dosage that was more readily available. However, changing such sensitive medications can cause additional problems.

ADHD medication can cause many side effects, varying for different people and different dosages. One of these is appetite suppression.

“I found myself just skipping entire lunches because I felt like I didn’t need to eat,” the student said after switching prescriptions. “But then I would go to a sports practice after school, and I would just be starving.”

More than a year after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed that there was a nationwide shortage of Adderall, many people with ADHD are still struggling to find their medication. In addition to generic prescriptions, Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, and Vyvanse are all popular stimulant brands used to treat ADHD in adults and children alike.

“I think it is a combination of regulatory issues and manufacturers not manufacturing up to their regulatory limit, and whether medication is for the American market or for export,” noted John Walkup, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Lurie Children’s Hospital. “When a manufacturer produces less than their quota, other manufacturers can’t make up the difference. The Drug Enforcement Administration and Pharma are purportedly working these issues to make the quota process more real-time and flexible.”

This shortage affects many Latin students. According to Upper School Learning Specialist Brianna Malin, there are an increasing number of Latin students getting diagnosed with ADHD, and students and families are coming to see Ms. Malin when they are unable to get their prescriptions filled.

“That’s something that I’m very compassionate towards because I can advocate for students and their needs at school,” Ms. Malin said. “If a student is struggling to focus in class or is feeling overwhelmed because there’s a lot going on and they’re also having those impacts [from lack of medication], then I can reach out to teachers.”

Ms. Malin’s experience with ADHD is personal, and she uses stimulant medication to help her manage it daily. “It’s something that helps me be successful every day and keep myself organized and focused. So it’s definitely something I need.”

Like so many of her students, this shortage negatively affects Ms. Malin, too. “It was just madness. I was running around from pharmacy to pharmacy, probably 10 pharmacies in the city, calling everywhere during my lunch, after school running around,” she said. “It actually ended up that I would get my medicine from Wisconsin.”

Junior Katie McDermott also found medication easier to get outside of Chicago, having recently moved back to the city from Tennessee. Without her medication, Katie’s school performance suffered.

“It’s been very difficult for me to focus, sit down, and get assignments done,” she said. “It’s really important to make sure that people in the learning environment get [the] medication they need. I don’t think teachers realize the real impact that lacking ADHD meds can have on a person with ADHD.”

Upper School science teacher Faye Wells has taught Medicinal Chemistry at Latin and studied chemistry and neuropsychology, a field that deals with cognitive behavior in the brain. “Part of the medication’s purpose is to make your brain fast enough to handle all the neutral input so then you can focus on everything better,” Ms. Wells said.

According to Ms. Wells, it takes a long time to find the right medicine, to find the right dose, and to consider any side effects.

“It’s a lot of trial and error to find the dosage that seems to benefit the student or person the most with the least amount of side effects,” she said. “Then, if it’s gone, now you’ve got to start all over again.”

Junior Marco Speroni had to switch from taking Adderall to Vyvanse.

“Vyvanse does kind of suck in comparison, in terms of the ratio of good effects to bad effects,” he said. “I wish that there was more ADHD medication so that I could get back on Adderall.”

Currently, there is no projected timeline for when these shortages will be resolved.

“Kids do best when all components of ADHD treatment (school and home-based interventions and medication) are in play,” Dr. Walkup said. “With the shortage, most kids with ADHD are not getting optimal ADHD care.”

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Caroline McHugh, Opinions Editor
Caroline McHugh (’25) is back for another year of writing for The Forum! During her junior year, Caroline will be serving as an Opinions Editor. Since her freshman year, Caroline has written articles discussing social media and various events throughout the school.

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