ADHD medication shortage
Mental Health

Functional dysfunction: reflections on the ADHD medication shortage

Allow me to set the scene for you: it’s a Friday afternoon in October, and I’ve just finished working a typically busy pre-weekend shift at the cafe. My social skills are somewhat rusty due to having spent much of the summer in my own company since finishing university in June. As a result, the bustle of this new hospitality job can prove challenging to navigate, especially amidst the current ADHD medication shortage, causing a slight energy crash at the end of each day.

Nonetheless, I’m feeling relieved that I’ve been hired despite having little prior experience as a barista, and the busy work environment has ensured that I stay focused on the immediate tasks that require my attention. This kind of engagement is rare for someone whose ADHD and OCD-related tendencies often distract them from the present moment, instead carrying them far away into the realm of irrational rumination or deeply unpleasant ‘what-if’ scenarios.

An Unexpected Dilemma: Facing a Medication Shortage

So, as I leave work on this particular Friday afternoon and begin my joyride on one of many familiar thought carousels, it occurs to me that I’m slightly low on ADHD medication. Planning ahead – a skill I can now employ with considerable ease since starting to take said medication – I decide that I’ll pick up my monthly prescription slightly early to avoid running out over the weekend whilst the pharmacy is shut.

Medication shortage

However, the usually simple collection process was unfortunately not straightforward on this occasion. As I arrived at the chemist, I was met with the news that my regular medication was out of stock due to a national shortage of ADHD drugs. Solidifying my initial fears, the pharmacist told me that the shop wasn’t expecting my medication to be redelivered until early December but to call other local suppliers to check their stock in the meantime.

The Quest for Medication: A Frustrating Journey

The following morning, I made over 50 phone calls to pharmacies in my area, managing to find just one where my medication was available. After independently sourcing and collecting the gold dust, I felt more empowered to do my own research into the matter, so I took to the most reliable source I had at my fingertips – the internet.

To my dismay, I discovered that the medication shortage had been flagged as an urgent issue several weeks ago, and many other people struggling with ADHD were similarly oblivious to the shortage. The panic and confusion I felt when leaving the pharmacy was compounded by an increasing sense of frustration: why had I not been notified about the shortage sooner, and how would I manage in the meantime? 

Seeking Solutions and Managing Symptoms

Given that my ADHD psychiatrist had discharged me after having settled on a comfortable dose of medication, I was unsure of where to turn for help. I attempted to contact my GP, but they had no further information about alternative suppliers. I then approached the service, who completed my initial ADHD assessment. I soon found a helpful document on their homepage detailing which medications were out of stock and their estimated return dates.

I was now armed with information which allowed me to approach this dilemma pragmatically; for example, I chose to ration my medication in an attempt to make my current supply last longer. However, this information did not aid me in navigating the debilitating symptoms I later faced during these medication breaks, such as the deeply isolating spells of low moods and exhaustion that arose due to the sudden withdrawal from my regular treatment.

Reflecting on the Journey to Accepting Medication

I couldn’t help but recognise the ironic fact that when I received my initial ADHD diagnosis just a year earlier, I was determined not to include medication within my treatment plan. I was convinced that I could manage the more debilitating symptoms associated with my condition through means of self-discipline, for example, adjusting my diet, as well as my sleep and exercise schedule.

ADHD medication shortage

I’d coped as a high-functioning, anxious person for the duration of my school and university career, so with this newfound insight about the way my brain works, there was no reason why I couldn’t find a way to manage going forward. However, I realised that this belief was a means of self-sabotage and that allowing my inner critic to dominate the decision-making process would not be without detriment to my already fragile mental state.

The Transformative Impact of Medication

After extensive discussions with my friends, family and my excellent therapist, I eventually decided that taking medication was the best option for me because the idea that I could single-handedly ‘fix’ my problems was a fallacy. It has recently come to light that women have previously been ten times less likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than men, resulting in more girls and women suffering in silence whilst creating unhealthy methods by which to disguise and control their issues.

Reflecting on this data with the gift of hindsight, it seems wholly unremarkable that myself and many others find great difficulty in seeking and accepting help, even when it is readily offered. I feel profoundly grateful to be one of the women who did receive a diagnosis, as this created the opportunity for me to practise self-compassion rather than depriving myself of the support I desperately needed. 

Since beginning medication, I have benefitted from greater emotional regulation, meaning that the internal battles and consequent emotional burnouts I was accustomed to have been far less prominent within my life. I also feel I have achieved a better balance between work and leisure activities; for example, I can now complete household chores and organisational tasks efficiently, leaving more free time to wind down or spend with friends.

The impacts have been monumental, so the prospect of becoming consumed by my previous daily cycles of disorder and self-deprecation is incredibly daunting. This is not to say that the circumstances of my life are undesirable – in fact, this is far from the truth. I am incredibly fortunate to live with a roof over my head and the privilege of accessing medical advice and healthcare with relative ease, and I know that the drought will not last forever. However, it is impossible to reason with anxiety, which is triggered by uncertain circumstances such as these.

Coping with the Ongoing Medication Crisis

A solution to the medication shortage is yet to be found, and I know this because I’ve been refreshing various online sources each day, hoping for a positive update. So rather than searching for a silver lining or a lesson to be learnt from recent events, I will instead be truthful and admit that I’m struggling to adjust to the change.

However, this time, I’m doing my best to avoid quietly grinning and bearing the mental load I’m grappling with. Instead, I’m making a conscious effort to speak to those close to me about the impacts of the shortage. Although it might seem intimidating, I would encourage anyone in a similar position to do the same if they feel capable.

Alerting people to the fact that you’re struggling is one of the greatest acts of self-compassion; serving as a reminder that your issues are significant and worthy of being heard, even if there is no quick ‘fix’ available at present.