The Adderall shortage: Hoarding pills, calling pharmacies


Tory Davis poses with her dog, Indiana Bones, in her home library. Photo by Eddie Sun.

Tory Davis lived with undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, for more than 40 years. When she eventually saw a psychiatrist and got prescribed Adderall, the medication altered her life.

“The first time I took it, I had this moment when it kicked in where I was like, ‘Is this how yoga teachers feel? All the time?'” Davis says.

Prescription stimulants — like Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse — treat the symptoms of ADHD, such as forgetfulness, disorganization, and poor time management.

For Davis, who’s a freelance writer and researcher, Adderall helps her stay on top of her work, and not get distracted and fall behind.

But in late 2021, Adderall and the other stimulants used to treat ADHD fell into short supply across the country, including in Los Angeles. 

Davis noticed right away. When she went to fill her prescription, local pharmacists told her they “didn’t know when they’ll have [Adderall]” in stock.

This set Davis off on an odyssey across Los Angeles to find a pharmacy that had Adderall on its shelves, a journey she describes as “the lamest scavenger hunt ever.” She drove from North Hollywood to four different drugstores, eventually finding the medication in Burbank.

The exhaustive Adderall search has been a common experience for those with ADHD. 

Dr. Richard Lee, a USC psychiatrist who treats children and teens with the disorder, has heard a lot of these stories. At the onset of the shortage, Dr. Lee’s staff would help by calling pharmacies for his patients, but they soon got overwhelmed.

“It got to the point where they were unable to make that many phone calls for that many patients all day long,” Dr. Lee says.

Multiple reasons exist for the shortage: There were manufacturing delays in 2022, while in the aftermath of the pandemic, more adults were diagnosed with ADHD, leading to greater demand for these medications.

It’s unclear when –– or if –– the shortage will be alleviated. But as this issue drags on into its third year, ADHD patients have either gone cold turkey, risking depression and other withdrawal symptoms, or found creative workarounds.

One solution: Have someone else do the legwork of tracking down scarce pills.

In January, Peter Daggett and Parth Shah founded Insito MedFinder, a startup that hires workers in the Philippines to call U.S. drugstores on behalf of patients and locate where in-demand medicines like stimulants are available.

Daggett and Shah, who both have ADHD, experienced this shortage firsthand.

“As we … learned more and more about this problem, we realized that this … is way more acute than even we initially thought,” Shah says.

Tory Davis has been fortunate. In recent months, she’s found a small pharmacy that reliably has Adderall in stock. However, she’s now rationing her medication, and abstaining from it when she has a slow work day –– just in case filling her prescription gets difficult again.

While it takes her much longer to get things done when she forgoes Adderall, having about a month’s worth of extra medication gives Davis peace of mind.

“It's not fun to feel desperate. It's really frustrating,” Davis says. “I'm part of the gig economy. … If you don't meet your deadlines, they don't hire you again. So it’s stressful.”



Eddie Sun