Brigid Bergin: You're back with The Takeaway. I'm Brigid Bergin, filling in for Melissa Harris-Perry today.
Last month, the FDA announced a national shortage of Adderall. The brand name for a stimulant commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The FDA said there have been manufacturing delays. Doctors have been recommending medication substitutes during the shortage. We ask listeners about how the shortage is impacting their lives.
Melissa: Hi, my name is Melissa and I am calling from North Hampton, Massachusetts. The Adderall shortage has impacted my life and my ability to be a decent parent. It's incredibly frustrating, and especially when you have ADHD, to have to be on top of so many clerical things in order to get your medication remotely on time is an extra burden to carry.
Brigid Bergin: With me now is Kimberly Quinn, a professor of cognitive psychology and "mindcraft" at Champlain College. Kimberly, thanks for being here.
Kimberly Quinn: Oh, thank you for having me, Brigid.
Brigid Bergin: How serious is the Adderall shortage? What's causing it? How big a problem is it for people who aren't getting the medication they need?
Kimberly Quinn: Oh, I think it's a huge problem and on different levels because first of all, of course, the ADHD mind, I personally don't like to call it that I refer to as the Fast Mind Club, but we'll stick with it. It's difficult because the ADHD mind is obviously dopamine deprived which is how Adderall works neurologically mimicking that. It's obviously a focusing agent so someone who's trying to adult, like Melissa was saying, who just called in and trying to be a parent and pay bills and stay on top of all that, there's going to be a wrench thrown in a lot of progress that has been made.
Sticking with the adults with ADHD, a lot of progress, and that affects self-esteem and just throws a wrench in all of it. Also though, I think many people aren't aware of the other job that Adderall has. In addition to being a focusing agent, it also provides a sense of closure when we finish something. For those who have the symptom of procrastination, which isn't everybody, but it's many, the dopamine-deprived brain is not sending a signal when somebody, let's say, finishes a college paper or a project at work or even cleaning a closet. That's an additional wrench thrown into the adult's life without the Adderall there to provide a sense of closure rewarding the finishing or completing something.
Brigid Bergin: I like that you called it the Fast Mind Club. It's a nice different term for it. I understand that you yourself have ADHD, you are part of this Fast Mind club. Can you give us an example of what that looks like and feels like day to day for you?
Kimberly Quinn: Actually, I just did a talk on this a couple of days ago and I used the picture for it. I used bees around a hive because that is my head every single day. Just buzz, buzz buzzing. I guess I like to maybe just say, Brigid, what a misnomer it is, attention deficit hyperactivity, and then we have the shame word of disorder. I don't think a child likes to be labeled with this, but anyone who has ADHD knows there is no deficit. It's actually a surplus because we are paying attention to everything all the time.
Then if you happen to have the H, I like to subtly, gently correct people because I'd rather swap it out for high energy. Hyper seems to me negative, like somebody's annoying and talking too much or whatever versus high energy. It's like somebody bouncing in yoga pants, being positive. Then the word disorder is just a shame word, so if it's not enough to try to adult and be a good parent and now you're slapped with disorder, which insinuates defective, not enough, flawed. Each and every day, I just have to steer away from that.
Brigid Bergin: I'm talking with cognitive psychology professor Kimberly Quinn about the national shortage of Adderall and how it's impacting millions of Americans. Here's what one of our listeners had to say about it.
Jim: My name's Jim from Kansas City. I take Adderall XR. It's been very difficult I've had to change different pharmacies. My doctor's actually not giving me anymore because of trying different pharmacies. They felt like I was drug-seeking behavior.
Brigid Bergin: Kimberly, as we're hearing from Jim there, Adderall has a bad rap, and sometimes, that bad rap gets transferred onto the patients themselves. What does that mean for how we treat people who need this medication even outside the shortage?
Kimberly Quinn: Oh, it's so shaming, Brigid, and I've actually had that myself. I took Adderall for several years while doing my dissertation. I, first of all, couldn't believe neurotypicals could focus that just for one, but I had things said to me. I went to the pharmacy once and they said it loudly for everyone in the line who heard everything. "We don't carry that here," and because it's a controlled substance, it carries with it a stigma that, again, a shame word. It's that something's wrong with you, that you need this.
Brigid Bergin: CDC data shows that ADHD diagnoses in children have been steadily rising over the past 20-plus years and it seems like we're seeing an increase in public awareness of ADHD for adults as well. What do you think accounts for this increased rise?
Kimberly Quinn: First of all, ADHD is genetic and it's not due to bad parenting or bad diets or anything like that. I think the rise in ADHD diagnosis is twofold. One is the want to media saturation of our society and young adults and older adults having way too much screen time, which does not cause ADHD, but certainly exacerbates the symptoms significantly. What we're seeing is what looks like ADHD.
Then the second part of that is we know, I believe the statistic is mid-30s, I can't quote it exactly, but during the pandemic over the last few years with anxiety and depression on the rise in general and ADHD, as I'm sure you're aware, has about an 80% comorbidity rate with other things. Anxiety is at the top of that list. As we know, anxiety makes most things worse.
If you add the social media, internet, massive amount of screen time, bling bling, instant gratification, popups, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, which is like catnip for somebody in the Fast Mind Club and then add in the anxiety, and it's no big surprise that what we're seeing is a gigantic increase in what looks like ADHD.
Brigid Bergin: I'm wondering if you have any guidance around people who are unable to get this medication or to deal with this shortage itself. Are there other strategies that you've used for yourself to help manage the Fast Mind Club?
Kimberly Quinn: Oh, absolutely, Brigid and first of all I would say to be kind and gentle with yourself and also tell those in your lives. Just be out there with it, "I don't have my Adderall. Please be patient." Then next, I'm very physically active, running, skiing, doing whatever and whether it's walking. The exercise really, really helps with the dopamine reward system, so I would absolutely become as active as possible. My other one is mindfulness because I practice mindfulness. It's great for the fast minders, because, unlike meditation where it's sitting and trying to create a vacuum in your mind, which isn't going to happen on this day with a fast minder, mindfulness goes with you.
It's just about being present in the moment, whether you're washing dishes or running or in a conversation and just to really try hard and also to set the bar and do your best. That's a bar we can always reach. Just try to be in the moment as much as possible. Exercise, and drink caffeine to be truthful. No, it's true. It's a focusing agent. What makes other people wound up is a focusing agent for us.
Brigid Bergin: Oh, wow. That's so interesting. Kimberly Quinn, a professor of cognitive psychology and "mindcraft" at Champlain College. Thank you so much.
Kimberly Quinn: Thank you, Brigid. This has been a really great use of my life minutes today.
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