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Asthma drug shortage worsening: What is Albuterol?

The supply of albuterol, a common asthma drug, is facing a shortage in the United States after one of the major manufacturers shut down operations. The drug is also used to treat conditions such as Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which had surged earlier in the year.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had albuterol on its shortage list for months. Akorn Pharmaceuticals, one of the major suppliers of albuterol, ceased operations in February as part of its Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings, after its manufacturing violations at its Illinois and New Jersey factories were found. The company stopped shipping albuterol before it shut down.

With Akorn shut down, there is only one major domestic company that can supply albuterol to hospitals and pharmacies. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for domestic supply chains as the U.S. relies heavily on foreign countries, including China and India, for pharmaceutical ingredients and drugs.

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This is not the first time that a drug has been affected by supply chain disruptions; ADHD drug Adderall and anti-viral medication Tamiflu have also been in short supply, causing patients to scramble for alternative options. Hospitals are already preparing for a shortage by monitoring their supplies of albuterol and preparing for more emergency room visits from patients who may not be able to get the inhaler that helps them breathe.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology is advising patients on how to handle the possible shortage, including checking with doctors for alternative medications, avoiding overusing inhalers, and if necessary, using expired inhalers that may still be partially effective. The FDA has the authority to address the shortage by taking measures such as extending the expiration date on existing supply, expediting new supply lines, and finding foreign-made alternatives.

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