Quebecers with asthma worried about provincial order switching their medication

Two weeks after the province limited sales of a common asthma medication, some Quebecers are feeling the pinch and are anxious about the substitutions they’ve been told to use instead.

Ventolin, a brand of “rescue inhaler” used by many asthmatics in the event they have an asthma attack, has been in short supply lately, Quebec public health officials wrote in an April 23 release.

The supply problems are “related to coronavirus disease,” and the fact that there’s been a “marked increase in demand” for the drug and its generic versions, the province wrote.

An order issued the same day and signed by provincial public health director Horatio Arruda limited the sale of Ventolin in pharmacies, instructing pharmacists to find a substitute from a list of other medications.

But that’s an uneasy feeling for many patients who have used the same medication for years and understand its effects.

“My pharmacist called to tell me that I wouldn’t be getting my rescue inhaler, which is Ventolin, which is a medicine I’ve been on my whole life, as an asthmatic,” said Kim Teolis.

The provincial order keeps Ventolin available to patients who may be less able to use a substitution, including children under eight, people with cystic fibrosis, and elderly people who for various reasons can’t switch—all of whom are exempted from the order.

For popular medications like this, “you are keeping them for the people more at risk,” said Arruda in a news conference.

The Ventolin shortage has been a problem across Canada. New supplies are supposed to arrive from Europe, but it’s unclear if and when the order will be lifted. 

Pharmacists say the substition shouldn’t be a big problem—and patients shouldn’t really be relying on their rescue medication anyway.

“Very honestly, if you’re an asthmatic patient and you [have the illness] well controlled, you shouldn’t need a Ventolin in your purse or with you all the time,” said Bertrand Bolduc of the Quebec Order of Pharmacists.

But many patients have said they’re just not comfortable switching. Teolis says the idea that some people would be left with no supply is alarming. 

“As any asthmatic knows, you never want to be without your rescue inhaler or potentially have an empty pump,” she said. “It’s quite dangerous.”

The provincial order instructs prescribing doctors not to change their prescriptions, and it says pharmacists don’t need to notify the prescribing doctor that they’re temporarily changing the medication unless they see a good reason to do so.


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