Albuterol asthma drug shortage, Milwaukee pharmacy impacted

The FDA says a "rescue drug" may need its own rescue after identifying a shortage of a popular asthma medication, and the closure of an Illinois manufacturing plant may worsen the situation.

The shortage of liquid albuterol actually dates back to October, but Illinois-based Akorn Pharmaceuticals just announced in bankruptcy filings that all operations are being terminated, including a plant that made the drug.

It's impacting the work of one Milwaukee pharmacist, while a doctor at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin said it hasn't hit them yet.

Behind the counter at Infinity Pharmacy, Pharmacist Marwa Bakr just wants to help her customers, but as she showed us Wednesday, March 8, sometimes that job isn't as easy as you'd think.

"There is none that they can allocate," said Bakr. "Nothing is available."

Bakr is referenced liquid albuterol, the medication often used to treat lung diseases like asthma or COPD. It comes in two forms -- a metered dose inhaler or a liquid.

"The solution, patients use it with a nebulizer, and it gives you a faster relief and reaches the lung faster than the inhaler," said Bakr.

SIGN UP TODAY: Get daily headlines, breaking news emails from FOX6 News

That liquid supply is going dry. Bakr said she ordered boxes in December, with a week's dose in each. They came in during the first week of March.

"There's been this incredible increased usage and need for it, and now, this reduction in production," said Dr. Julie Biller, pulmonologist at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Dr. Biller said the hospital network hasn't felt the shortage, noting they switched to the inhaler during the coronavirus pandemic to prevent infections. Still, she said she encourages patients who take albuterol to get their prescriptions refilled as soon as it's available.

"And don't wait until you're on your last puff or ounce of your albuterol," said Dr. Biller. "Make sure that you are getting -- you're keeping up with your supply and keeping up with your refills."

Biller said you may just need to get check around with other pharmacies to find albuterol. You can also talk to your doctor about taking an alternative medication in the meantime.