Bureaucratic glitch cuts supplies of drug Ritalin Drugs can calm hyperactive kids

November 14, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Because of a bureaucratic lapse at the Justice Department, thousands of parents around the country are going from pharmacy to pharmacy trying to find supplies of Ritalin, the principal drug used to treat hyperactive children.

Supplies of Ritalin, an amphetamine-related drug that is tightly regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration because of its potential for abuse as a stimulant, were disrupted early this fall because the Justice Department inadvertently delayed approving a manufacturer's request to increase its production.

Last spring, the principal manufacturer of Ritalin, Ciba Pharmaceuticals of Summit, N.J., asked the drug agency to increase the allowable levels of Ritalin production. The agency said it sent the request to another office in the Justice Department, its parent agency, which was supposed to forward it to the Office of Management and Budget for review. When approved, the request had to be published in the Federal Register for a comment period.

The Justice Department acknowledged last week that the request had been "inadvertently" sidetracked for more than a month because of a paper-shuffling error. The person who should have reviewed the request had been temporarily reassigned to another office, and the paperwork failed to reach him in a timely way, a department spokesman said. The department said in a statement that it had instituted changes to insure that "the problem is unlikely to be repeated."

The error has forced worried consumers to call or visit numerous drugstores to find the drug or its generic equivalent, methylphenidate hydrochloride. Many consumers have reported spot shortages, and some are having to settle for having prescriptions partially filled because of supply problems.

"When I first heard about the shortage I got very scared," said Christine Wilson of Bedford, Mass. Not only does she and her husband use Ritalin, a mild nervous-system stimulant used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy, but so do three of her children.

To refill a prescription for one of her sons on Friday, Mrs. Wilson said she had called five pharmacies, none of which had enough Ritalin for the 60-tablet order. Her doctor agreed to split the prescription so she could get the pills from three pharmacies. She said it took three hours.

Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders, a nonprofit group with more than 20,000 members, said people had been reporting varying degrees of trouble finding Ritalin or its generic equivalent. While some large pharmacy chains are reporting short supplies, other drugstores in the same areas are still filling prescriptions.

Dr. Wade F. Horn, a clinical psychologist who is executive director of the group, said reports of supply problems had come in from parts of New England and Atlanta, Detroit and Houston.

Ciba said that its production of Ritalin was running 24 hours a day but that it would take until early December to return supplies to their normal levels around the country.

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