COLUMBIA — Columbia resident Calvin Cooksey can’t get his prescription for his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder filled.
While in his hometown of Trenton, Cooksey, 21, went to the Hy-Vee Pharmacy to get his monthly refill of 60 pills of a generic Adderall prescription. He said he was only offered half of his prescription and was told to come back when he ran out to get the remaining dosage and the next month’s refill.
But when he came back at the end of December, they didn’t have any pills to give him. When he tried to fill the same prescription in Columbia, the pharmacy did not have the drug he needed.
“It seemed that they were just completely out and didn’t have any other alternatives,” he said. “They basically just wanted to get me out of there.”
Since the end of December, Cooksey, a former MU student who often travels between Trenton and Columbia, hasn’t taken his medication — a medication he has used for the past year to help with depression and focus.
“It’s harder to wake up in the morning,” he said. “At first, it was hard to get to sleep, and it affected my school work a little bit. It’s different, but adjustable.”
The New York Times reported in December that shortages of attention deficit drugs across America are due to a conflict between the Drug Enforcement Administration, which wants to decrease abuse of the drugs, and drug manufacturers that want to maximize profits. Many of those abusing the drugs are college students, who may take the medication to stay awake, become focused or get high, according to the article.
Bill Morrissey, pharmacist in charge at Kilgore’s Medical Pharmacy, said Adderall and Ritalin, including their generics, are the ADHD drugs that are in short supply, though not all forms of the drug are impossible to get.
“The ones that are on shortage are just the ones that are ‘immediate release’ ADHD medications,” Morrissey said.
The slow-release forms, which aren’t as popular, are in normal supply.
Morrissey said there are safety controls in place that limit the amount of medication the pharmacy can sell to customers. Because Adderall and similar ADHD medications are considered controlled substances, the wholesaler for the drugs are allowed to only send a “normal consumption” of the drug, which is based on past usage numbers.
“Some of those similar type controls are put on by the wholesalers and manufacturers from the DEA,” he said.
He said he hopes to see a larger allotment of the medications this year.
“Suppliers have told me that if it’s due to a DEA allotment, then it’s going to improve within the first of the year,” he said. “We’ll know within the next couple of weeks.”
Emily Furlong, pharmacist at Schnucks, said she has seen a bigger demand for ADHD medications in the last few years, and has also seen a major jump in the cost for fast-release ADHD medications for those without insurance.
“The cost is the big thing that’s been shocking to people,” Furlong said. “They used to get it at a pretty reasonable price, and now its gone up five to six times.”
Erica Hopkins-Wadlow, a pharmacist at D&H Drugstore, said it has become difficult to order generic Adderall prescriptions lately, but the pharmacy has tried to stock up when its wholesaler makes it available. The pharmacy has also stocked up on its supply of Ritalin, which she believes will be in short supply until February or March.
“We’ve been doing a pretty good job about keeping on top of it,” Hopkins-Wadlow said, which has led to an increase in business. “We’ve gotten such an influx from other pharmacies, so our demand has gone up.”
Hopkins-Wadlow said as a result of the shortage, the cost of immediate release medications have increased. The pharmacy first noticed an increase in June or July of last year, and she said some prices of these medications have doubled from what the cost used to be.
“We try to help patients whenever we can, but there’s a point where we can’t go any lower,” Hopkins-Wadlow said. “We can’t sell it for less than what we bought it for.”
She said she hates to see people who need the drugs suffer because of people who abuse it.
Kim Dude, director of the MU Wellness Resource Center, said that abuse of the medication is likely an issue on most college campuses, especially around midterms and finals when students feel the most pressure to stay awake longer and be more focused.
According to a survey on the Wellness Resource Center’s website, nine out of 10 MU students do not abuse prescription medications, but Dude says they know the problem exists.
“If they would manage their time well, learn good study skills, manage their stress, eat well and get enough sleep, then they could do well on their own,” Dude said. “They don’t need a drug to do that. It’s basically trying to cut corners, but it’s doing it in an illegal and potentially harmful way.”
Cooksey, who is still not taking his medication, said he can manage but it's different and difficult for him.
The DEA "needs to find a better way to regulate than what they’re doing right now," he said. "Those people who need it, especially people who need it more than me, are probably struggling.”