Elevated demand for ADHD medicine places a pressure on the US healthcare system

Stories about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, have seen a resurgence in the social media zeitgeist in recent years, and it could lead to more people seeking a diagnosis for the condition.

“Many of my patients would point their phone at the camera and say, ‘Here’s this video I saw on TikTok and that’s why I have ADHD,'” said Dr. Sasha Hamdani. She is a psychiatrist and ADHD specialist and a creator of content about the condition with more than 800,000 followers on TikTok.

Hamdani estimates that about 50% of patients who inquire about the condition actually receive an HDHD diagnosis.

ADHD diagnoses and prescriptions have been increasing across all age groups since before the days of social media. The number of ADHD diagnoses in 2010 was almost five times what it was in 1999. And between 2007 and 2016, the number of ADHD diagnoses in adults more than doubled.

“Certainly the impact of the pandemic was clear in terms of increasing stress, but also the advent of telemedicine has allowed more people to have better access and brought more people into treatment,” said Dr. Lenard Adler, director of the adult ADHD program at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “I don’t think we have a straight answer, but ADHD drug prescriptions have certainly increased in recent years.”

Social media content can be a problematic source of health information. A media analysis of popular TikTok videos revealed that about half of the videos examined contained misleading or potentially misinformation.

“I think heightened awareness is always what I would call a double-edged sword,” said Dr. Anthony Yeung, a psychiatrist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, and one of the study’s authors. “I think we’ve definitely moved into an area where we’re talking about mental health that’s really positive. There’s a lot less stigma.”

“But the other side of this double-edged sword is that sometimes when we talk about mental health symptoms or diagnoses, we run the risk of potentially misinterpreting things that fall on the spectrum of normal as pathological again,” Yeung said.

This influx of people all at once seeking treatment can create a supply and demand problem.

“What I see in my practice is that we have a six-month waiting list to be admitted. And we’re incredibly busy,” said Adler. “Some of that is from the pandemic, but I think there’s a general need for services at this point.”

Some people may start self-diagnosing when they don’t have access to treatment, which can come at a cost.

“One of the challenges with self-diagnosis is that it can lead to increased anxiety in individuals,” Yeung said. “Sometimes when people talk about symptoms online, those symptoms aren’t necessarily representative of a specific disease or disorder, but it can be talked about in a way that anyone watching this video actually sees it as such and thinks they have it has diagnosis.”

This bottleneck does not only apply to doctor visits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in October that both the brand name and generic form of Adderall are in short supply in the United States

“Logistically, it’s been a nightmare for both patients and providers,” Hamdani said. “[Stimulant medications] are so tightly controlled that you can’t easily transfer it [to a different pharmacy]. You must abort a script. Then you have to find another pharmacy that has it. At this point it may not be filled because other people have filled it there. It’s a lot of logistical shifts and work on that front. And that’s extremely frustrating for the patient.”

Watch them Video above to learn more about the rise in ADHD in the United States and whether the healthcare system can handle the rising demand.

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