Opinion

attention-deficit drugs | editorial

Quota system breaks down

istockphoto/globe staff illustration

A NATIONWIDE shortage of medicines for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is causing undue stress to those with the ailment - or, more often, their parents. Individuals looking to refill prescriptions have to drive from pharmacy to pharmacy in search of hidden stockpiles of medicines like Ritalin, Adderall, and their generic counterparts.

As a result, patients are asking tough questions of the pharmaceutical industry and of government regulators. The Drug Enforcement Administration has shouldered much of the blame, since the agency limits how much of the amphetamine salts - the drugs’ active ingredients - can be distributed to manufacturers each year. That ire isn’t entirely justified: The DEA regulates amphetamines to prevent overflows from falling into the hands of their abusers - a large and growing population, especially among college students. The DEA also points out that the quota it set for pharmaceutical amphetamines last year was never depleted.

Still, the shortages are real: The availability of a given manufacturer’s 20-milligram pills doesn’t help patients who need a lower dose. Not all manufacturers sell to all pharmacies. Name-brand drugs may not be a good option for patients used to generics.

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The shortage should prompt doctors to address some tough questions about ADHD. Even amid evidence that the disorder is already over-diagnosed, the number of diagnoses keeps growing. Now would be a logical time for doctors to reevaluate some cases. Still, millions of patients are well served by ADHD medicines, and they should continue to be. The DEA may have good reasons for maintaining a quota, but it should be prepared to raise it in a pinch.