Asthma medication being rationed in Sask. because of 'unprecedented' demand

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health is asking pharmacists to limit the amount of asthma medication they give to patients.

The province said there's been an "unprecedented increase in demand for inhalers" since COVID-19 came to Canada.

The ministry is directing pharmacists to only give out a month's supply of medication to patients, except in special circumstances.

"Manufacturers and drug wholesalers are temporarily limiting the number of inhalers pharmacies can purchase in order to prevent a national shortage," the ministry said in a statement.

Several pharmacists in the province say their supplies are running low.

Some pharmacies only have enough medication to give to patients who have an acute need for it.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association said it's trying to ensure medications are being dispensed responsibly.

"Pharmacists across Canada are encouraging Canadians not to stockpile medications or request early refills unless absolutely necessary," it said in a news release.

'You can't fight stress when you can't breathe'

La Ronge's Alexander Ashton recently ran out of his medication.

He said he's used a puffer since childhood to administer Salbutamol (commonly referred to as Ventolin) for breathing issues brought on by allergies.

Now he's been told he might not be able to get more of it.

He said he called a local pharmacy and also talked to his doctor, and that both informed him supplies are being rationed and he won't be able to get his prescription filled at the moment.

Submitted by Alexander Ashton

To compound his worries, he said he's recently picked up a common cold.

"I've had [a puffer] beside me my whole life and now I just don't. So, now that I'm having breathing issues, if things get a bit worse what do I do, just sit and wait it out for days?"

Ashton said he ends up hospitalized every couple of years because he wakes up in the middle of the night unable to breathe. He worries that he won't be able to get the help he needs in an emergency if hospitals become overburdened by patients with COVID-19.

He said he's being as cautious as possible for the time being, sitting at home trying to distract himself to limit stress as much as possible.

"You can't fight stress when you can't breathe," he said. "As long as I stay safe, I know nothing terrible is going to happen."

Supplies could be rationed for months

Saskatchewan's College of Pharmacy and Nutrition has posted information from Salbutamol manufacturers on its website.

All are reporting that medication quantities will be limited, some for longer than others.

Two of the main pharmaceutical companies that make the drug are Teva and Apotex.

Teva expects regular supply levels could return by the end of April. Apotex reported it's allocating "very limited quantities" until the end of June.

Sask. College of Pharmacy and Nutrition