AMNA NAWAZ: Health care systems and hospitals across the country are grappling with a nationwide shortage of the asthma medication albuterol.
Stephanie Sy looks at who's affected and what's being done about it.
STEPHANIE SY: Liquid albuterol is commonly used in emergency departments as a quick-relief breathing treatment for several chronic lung diseases, such as asthma, COPD, COVID-19, RSV, and pneumonia.
It's been on the FDA's short supply list since October.
And last month, Akorn Pharmaceuticals, the primary U.S. manufacturer of liquid albuterol, filed for bankruptcy and closed operations.
We spoke to two people who are already feeling the impact.
ANGELA FOLGER, Director of Pharmacy, Nemours Children's Hospital: I'm Angela Folger.
I am the director of pharmacy at Nemours Children's Hospital in Florida.
This shortage has been significant.
Obviously, working in a pediatric hospital, we use quite a bit of albuterol.
We have quite a few asthma patients.
SAMANTHA EDDINS, Mother: I'm Samantha Eddins.
I live in Lincoln, Nebraska.
I'm a mom of three.
And two are on vents.
They are born at 24 weeks gestation via C-section.
They get four treatments a day between the two of them, so they get one in the morning and one at night before bed.
It's an albuterol sulfate concentration.
And we just do it through like a nebulizer machine.
But they have special attachments that they can attach it to their ventilator circuit to make the ventilator push it into their lungs.
ANGELA FOLGER: We have switched almost all of our patients to the more dilute product, which is still effective, still works well.
But on the pharmacy side of that, it created some challenges for our patients that require a continuous albuterol treatment, so our most sick asthmatic patients that require that.
SAMANTHA EDDINS: Last month, they only give me a month's supply.
So between the time that I had used their last one to the time that they ordered the new one to get into the pharmacy, I had to dip into my personal stash to give them their meds, so just so that they can do that overlap between I don't have any to I have some.
They get it twice a day, and we go through it twice as fast as like a normal, typical family would.
ANGELA FOLGER: We are seeing an increase in flu.
We are having still some COVID patients.
We are seeing a significant increase in RSV.
And all of those patients require albuterol.
I think we really need additional manufacturers to step up and start adding this to their portfolio, so that we're not reliant on a single source for the medication that we need for our patients.
STEPHANIE SY: The FDA says they are working closely with manufacturers to address the shortage.
Dr. Juanita Mora an allergist and immunologist in Chicago and national spokesperson for the American Lung Association.
Dr. Mora, thank you for joining us.
As you just heard, albuterol is used commonly to treat very young children because they can't use those inhalers.
Are you concerned about how the shortage of liquid albuterol is affecting that age group in particular?
DR. JUANITA MORA, American Lung Association: Very concerned, because we're talking about 25 million asthmatics in the United States, 20 million COPDers.
You add the long-haul COVID, and we just came out of a brutal respiratory viral season, where we used albuterol tons, which was with COVID, RSV and flu.
And now we're heading into allergic asthma season as well too, where we're going to see a lot of kids, a lot of adults impacted and needing this lifesaving drug, because it's used to help open up the lungs when all these kids and all these adults aren't able to breathe.
And this is why it's such an important topic for us to be talking about today.
STEPHANIE SY: Yes, and we heard that parent saying that she's basically rationing her albuterol at home, that she's giving her kids some of her albuterol, the other expert saying that they're having to dilute albuterol.
Is that what you're advising your patients to do?
Dr. JUANITA MORA: Well, at this time, unfortunately, because all the albuterol is being sent to the hospitals and emergency departments and urgent cares, then clinics, and then parents at home or anyone who used liquid albuterol is not able to get it.
So, we are advising, if they have any, to possibly actually do dilute, some dilutions, but it's not the best actual option.
We want someone to really step up and help in this albuterol shortage, especially as we're heading now into spring allergy season.
And tons of asthmatics are triggered by allergies at this time.
And we are going to end up using a lot of the actual reserves that we have for liquid albuterol.
And this is very concerning, as we're already in shortage.
STEPHANIE SY: Are there alternatives, especially for the younger children who need to use liquid albuterol with a nebulizer?
Dr. JUANITA MORA: Well, currently, what we have are actual solutions called Xopenex, which is levalbuterol, and DuoNeb as well too.
The problem is, the companies haven't produced them in mass quantities, and also their costs.
So it's hard for actual insurances to cover it and for parents to be able to afford it.
So that's the problem that we're currently running into.
STEPHANIE SY: So, besides the very young and, as you say, the elderly who are not able to use albuterol inhalers, it sounds like you're also saying that people that are particularly economically vulnerable, that might not have private insurance are at risk here.
Dr. JUANITA MORA: Definitely.
That is a population I'm concerned with, especially because they were the hardest-hit communities when it came to COVID-19.
STEPHANIE SY: What do you see as the solution to this shortage?
Dr. JUANITA MORA: Well, I'm hoping that the FDA will continue to encourage pharmaceuticals to really pitch in.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything is that we have to take care of each other.
And I felt pharmaceuticals really stepped up to help.
And I'm hoping they will as well with this albuterol shortage, which is so important, and so that we don't have to outsource to other countries for help to meet the needs of all these asthmatic, COPDers, and every child and adult with a respiratory illness who currently needs this medication as a lifesaving treatment.
STEPHANIE SY: Yes, from what I understand, there is only one U.S. manufacturer of albuterol right now in operation for a very common drug.
Dr. Juanita Mora with the American Lung Association, thanks for joining the "NewsHour."
Dr. JUANITA MORA: It is my pleasure.
Thank you for having me.
And people can learn more at lung.org.