The nation’s leading maker of liquid albuterol, a life-saving drug used as an inhalable mist to treat asthma attacks, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, RSV, and even COVID. officially closed last month after a long battle with bankruptcy, cutting back on the drug that had been in short supply since last summer.
Now, doctors fear that the 25 million Americans with asthma and other respiratory conditions or diseases will pay, possibly even with their lives, if federal health officials don’t act quickly to restructure US manufacturing of liquid albuterol.
Albuterol and other medications are known as rescue medications because they are used to treat asthma symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Other types of medicines, including corticosteroids, are known as maintenance or long-term control medicines because they are taken daily to treat the underlying inflammation and help reduce the chance that rescue medicines will be needed.
The timing of scarcity couldn’t be worse.
With the start of spring allergy season, a time when people often have asthma exacerbations, doctors are concerned people won’t have access to medications, which help alleviate or prevent breathing problems by relaxing and open the airways.
Fortunately, albuterol inhalers are not in short supply and are not expected to be anytime soon. Several manufacturers supply the drug, which is a generic drug.
The liquid version of the medication, which is inhaled as a mist through a device called a nebulizer, is typically used in children who are not old enough to use an inhaler correctly and when people have more severe symptoms and conditions.
There are other rescue medications that people can use in nebulizers, but they are more expensive brand name medications.
“The supply that we currently have in the US might be good for three to four months, but then we’ll be back into respiratory season,” said Dr. Juanita Mora, an allergist and immunologist in Chicago who is also a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association. “If we end up using up a lot of our stock with pollen season because of all the asthmatics who have allergic asthma, that’s when we could run into problems sooner rather than later.”
Health care providers began noticing a shortage of liquid albuterol last summer when the drug’s two US manufacturers, Akorn and Nephron Pharmaceuticals, halted production even as RSV, flu and COVID spread like wildfire, especially among children.
The FDA added the drug to its medicine shortage list in october 2022.
Illinois-based company Akorn first filed for bankruptcy in 2020, but unable to find a buyer, the company closed its doors and laid off all employees in February.
The other company that supplies liquid albuterol to the US, Nephron, told the Washington Post that it is “Currently producing Albuterol 0.5 as fast as possible to deliver to the market, and to patients, to address this shortage.”
In a series of tweets posted Wednesday night, the FDA said: “To help satisfy the lawsuit, the FDA has reiterated that outsourcing facilities can complicate the specific product that is in short supply to help increase the supply. FDA continues to explore all available regulatory levers to help secure supply, including the exercise of discretion for potential temporary importation by foreign suppliers.”
But the shortage is already affecting families. Mora said this week she met a single mother of four with asthma who had to rush to the clinic because none of the pharmacies around her had liquid albuterol for her teenage son who was having an asthma attack.
The clinic had some of the medications in stock, so Mora offered the teen the nebulizer treatment, but next time, the family will have to go to an emergency department, especially if the younger one, who can’t use a inhaler correctly, you experience a worsening of asthma symptoms. .
What you can do amid liquid albuterol shortages
You don’t want to hoard the drug in the first place if you find a pharmacy with enough supplies, Mora said, because it’s critical that they go to hospitals for the treatment of seriously ill patients.
Next, you’ll want to choose an albuterol inhaler if you don’t already have one because it can save your life if no other treatments are available.
Third, for those who normally use liquid albuterol with a nebulizer, Mora suggests talking with your doctor to discuss alternative medication options that can be nebulized, such as levalbuterol (sold under the brand name Xopenex) and ipratropium bromide/salbutamol (sold under the brand name DuoNeb.)
These drug alternatives are not in short supply, but they are more expensive.
People whose asthma normally worsens during allergy season can also talk to their doctor about increasing the doses of other medications, including steroids, which can keep lung inflammation down and prevent severe exacerbations that may require treatment with rescue medications such as liquid albuterol at home. or during a hospital visit.