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Caregiving, living without ADHD meds is stressful

Plus, a new blood test can help detect preclampsia.

How We Care is presented by Spotlight PA. Support this vital journalism by clicking here.

This week: Living with ADHD during a medication shortage, how a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling will affect health care, and reimagining senior centers.

A pharmacy worker prepares a prescription.

A pharmacy worker prepares a prescription. (Commonwealth Media Services)

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Pittsburgh neurologist Wesley Kerr was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder at the age of 35. He’d recently moved with his wife and two young sons from California to take a fellowship at the University of Michigan, and work was stressful.

Kerr said he previously dealt with heavy workloads by relying on caffeine pills, which helped him focus as he completed a dual MD and Ph.D. program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

But as he began overseeing students, Kerr found his attention spread too thin. Little changes on the job would throw him off. He’d come home drained and not be present for his sons, who are both autistic.

Kerr, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, is among the Pennsylvanians affected by the ongoing national shortage of ADHD medications, which the Food and Drug Administration announced in October 2022. It stemmed from manufacturers being unable to source enough amphetamine mixed salts, which are the active ingredient in Adderall. Due to this scarcity, patients changed to other medications, but the higher demand for those drugs worsened the issue.

People with ADHD struggle with focus and tend to be more impulsive, Kerr told How We Care.

One study estimates that 8.7 million U.S. adults have the disorder. While the causes are not well understood, stimulants that increase dopamine and norepinephrine can help.

Kerr finds his medication helps him be a better mentor to young researchers, provide better care to patients, and stay emotionally regulated while parenting his high-needs kids.

“I would love to yell at them because that’s the easier solution, but that’s not the beneficial solution,” said Kerr wryly.

Kerr’s wife, Jane, said that his bond with their sons has improved since he started ADHD treatment, and that he’s more focused and happier. She also said it’s improved their marriage, because it’s helped her better understand her husband.

When Kerr runs out of his generic Vyvanse, caregiving is much harder, and Jane ends up doing a disproportionate amount of the parenting, they told Spotlight PA.

The shortages have forced people with ADHD, and their caregivers, to spend hours calling different pharmacies — sometimes in other cities or states — to get prescriptions filled. Others have gone without their medication or rationed their pills — something Kerr said he must still do every month. He’s been on three different prescriptions in the past two years.

Gary Swanson, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, said that when someone’s medication wears off, their attention span and impulse control return to previous levels.

“I often use the analogy of wearing glasses,” Swanson said in a statement. “Without your glasses, your vision is back to baseline. If someone misses their stimulant medication, they may have a much more difficult time focusing and paying attention, and they may be more impulsive, restless or hyperactive.”

Increased demand for ADHD drugs plays a big part in the shortage, and is a recent development according to GoodRx. The stress and isolation experienced by many people during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated their ADHD symptoms; this perhaps led more to seek treatment.

Also, prior to COVID-19 the federal government did not allow ADHD medications to be prescribed via telehealth because of a potential for misuse. That changed in January 2020, when federal regulations lifted a requirement that these Schedule II controlled substances only be prescribed following an in-person examination.

Read the full story here.

Sarah Boden, for Spotlight PA

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FDA Building 21 stands behind the sign at the campus's main entrance and houses the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. The FDA campus is located at 10903 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20993.

The Food and Drug Administration campus in Silver Spring, Maryland. (Flickr / FDA)


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