Minnesota pharmacies brace for shortage of prescription medications, inhalers

At Setzer Pharmacy in St. Paul, Jenna Bednar looks over the shelves that hold rescue inhalers. She said while they are stocked for now, she doesn’t know if they will be in a week or two.

"We’re doing our best, but some of it we just can’t get it," Bednar said.

The coronavirus pandemic is putting a strain on the world’s prescription drug supply. Imports from producers overseas have slowed, according to Sarah Derr with the Minnesota Pharmacists Association.

"Ninety percent of the medications that we have in the United States are actually imported from other countries, including China," Derr said Friday in an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

While drug manufacturers in the U.S. are ramping up production, pharmacies across Minnesota are bracing for shortages of key medications, including inhalers.

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"That’s been a tough one for us to get in the marketplace," Bednar said.

Patients who experience chronic respiratory illnesses rely on them, while doctors often prescribe inhalers to people diagnosed with respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, Bednar said.

"Right now, we’re seeing kind of an influx of people refilling their rescue inhalers," she said.

Facing a shortage, pharmacists are scaling back what they will give to patients at this time.

"Sometimes patients need three or more each fill, but they are only able to get one and have to go back to the pharmacy in the near future to pick up another inhaler," Derr said.

Bednar said, as a pharmacist, it’s a fine line to walk.

"You want to try and keep them from coming in, but you also don’t want to run out for other patients," she said.