Since September 2023, there has been a worldwide shortage of a range of drugs used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Worryingly, the deficit includes forms of methylphenidate hydrochloride, including Ritalin, which are amongst the most commonly prescribed ADHD medication in the UK. Whilst the NHS raised a national patient safety alert regarding this issue last autumn, it was initially believed that the shortage of medication would only last until December. However, on 28 November, Takeda, the principal manufacturer of ADHD medication, informed charity ADHD UK that supply impediments are likely to continue until April. With over 10,000 Sussex residents having been prescribed medication to treat ADHD over the course of the last year, The Argus has made it clear that the effects of the shortage are still very much present across the county.

Sussex Health and Care recently issued a statement acknowledging the “trying and stressful time” for those dealing with the lack of treatment options. Amongst those involved are newly diagnosed patients, who, according to one NHS alert, should not begin taking any affected medication until the supply issues are resolved. In other words, thousands of patients could be navigating the difficult symptoms of ADHD without treatment. The chief executive of ADHD UK, Henry Shelford, has also been personally affected by this shortage. “The government continues to utterly fail those with ADHD,” he stated. “The diagnosis is not taken seriously.” The Department of Health and Social Care responded, acknowledging the “distress” that medication shortages can bring, and attempting to reassure patients by claiming to be “working intensively with manufacturers”.

Unfortunately, the medicinal shortages in the UK are not limited to drugs used to treat ADHD. According to the British Generic Manufacturers Association, 96 products are currently limited in their availability. A 2023 survey from Community Pharmacy England found that, as a result of these shortages, 87% of employees believed patient health was at risk.

While it is true that the poor value of the pound since Brexit has made it more difficult for the NHS to purchase some medications, the shortage is not solely the fault of the referendum. In December 2023, an EU medicines shortage working party attributed supply issues to the ongoing attacks on the Red Sea; the impact of the war in Ukraine; and the suspension of some medicines tested by a certain Indian laboratory, as recommended by a European Medicines Agency. Additionally, the 2019 scheme introduced by the UK government sought to ensure that spending on branded medication grew less than 2% in a year, which could further explain the supply obstacles.

There may also be issues regarding a lack of communication, with an increase in diagnoses making it difficult for manufacturers to meet demands. The ADHD Foundation, a charity focusing on neurodiversity, said that the condition’s history of misdiagnosis, particularly with regards to women, could have led to the hike in issuing prescriptions. The CEO of the charity, Tony Lloyd, advocates the use of a “range of strategies and lifestyle choices” in order to combat the symptoms, believing that “medication should not be used in isolation.” However, this statement fails to take into consideration the difficulties of receiving therapy on the NHS compared to obtaining a prescription. Currently, even the latter is proving difficult. The Badger spoke to one student who was recently forced to switch from Methylphenidate to Atomoxetine. “I had to cope with the side effects that come from taking a new medication during exam season,” the second-year student stated. “I was writing essays whilst experiencing heart palpitations and dry mouth.”

A second student, studying for an MA at the University of Sussex, has also found the shortage difficult to cope with. “Even during COVID, I managed to submit my assignments on time. Last month, following the shortage in medication, I had to request an extension as I found it really hard to manage my time.”

In light of the adversities faced by the shortage, hopefully the University of Sussex will express empathy to those struggling to acquire medication. 

Photo by Christina Victoria Craft

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