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Ensuring Access to Inhalers & Other Medications During COVID-19

The Lung Health Foundation is monitoring the availability of several inhaled respiratory medications after receiving reports of brief local shortages. As of March 31, there are no largescale shortages reported, though individual pharmacies may temporarily run on low on stock from time to time. The most commonly cited drug facing potential shortages due to COVID-19 is Salbutamol, a bronchodilator that helps patients breathe by quickly opening the airways.

The Lung Heath Foundation supports Health Canada’s guidelines urging Canadians to refrain from stockpiling medication, as the practice can deprive others of the medication they need while contributing to local shortages. Instead, Canadians are encouraged to refill their prescriptions with the goal of keeping a modest supply; meanwhile, healthcare providers are urged to avoid prescribing or dispensing larger supplies of medication than necessary, unless there is a specific medical reason to do so. Stateside, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests keeping a one month supply of medication in order to facilitate social distancing by limiting patients’ trips to the pharmacy.

The Lung Health Foundation strongly urges chronic lung disease patients to continue using their inhaled medications as prescribed, as instructed on their asthma or COPD action plans. Rationing medication is both unnecessary and potentially harmful to keeping one’s symptoms under control.

Typical medication access scenarios – Ontario

If you are currently using a medication to treat your asthma, COPD, or other lung condition, you have refills left, and you are nearing the end of your inhaler or other medication, call your pharmacy. Ordering ahead gives them time to fill your order and ensures that there are no gaps in your medication.

If you are currently using a medication to treat your asthma, COPD, or other lung condition, and you have run out of prescription refills, your pharmacist may be able to help by contacting your physician’s office. They may also be able to renew your prescription. According to the Ontario Pharmacists Association, your pharmacist will first ensure that:

  • Your medication is for a chronic condition
  • You are stable on the medication and it is working the way it should for your condition
  • The medication is not a targeted substance or monitored drug designated under the Narcotics Safety and Awareness Act.

In the unlikely event of a shortage

National shortage reports are published on, Canada’s mandatory drug shortage and discontinuation reporting website.

Should an active respiratory medication shortage develop, the Lung Health Foundation will attempt to alert our community members via our social channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), email list, and support group network. Please continue to take your medications as prescribed, and reach out to our Lung Health Line 1-888-344-LUNG (5864) if  you have any concerns. One of our Certified Respiratory Educators would be happy to advise you on the steps you should take.

Key Facts

  • There is currently no largescale shortage of respiratory medications in Canada. Canadians can check for shortages here.
  • The most commonly cited respiratory drug facing potential shortages is Salbutamol, (Albuterol), a fast-acting bronchodilator. It is often referred to as a “rescue” medication because it starts working quickly to relax the muscles that surround the airways. It is commonly prescribed to asthma and COPD patients, and is also known by the brand names Ventolin and Pro Air.
  • Approximately 3.8 million Canadians live with asthma.
  • Approximately two million Canadians have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but an estimated one million more may have it while remaining undiagnosed.
  • It is more important than ever that people with chronic lung disease keep their conditions under control. Properly following one’s asthma or COPD action plan is essential. This includes continuing to take maintenance medications as prescribed, and taking reliever medications as needed.
  • Asthma patients who find themselves using their reliever medications often may not have good asthma control. The Lung Health Foundation urges these patients to speak with their healthcare provider about creating an asthma action plan that can guide them.
  • Certified Respiratory Educators are available for free, confidential phone, email, and chat sessions through the Lung Health Foundation’s Lung Health Line.

About the Lung Health Foundation 

The Lung Health Foundation is the leading health charity dedicated to improving lung health through a uniquely integrated approach that identifies gaps and fills them through investments in groundbreaking research and urgently needed programs and supports; policy and practice change; and promoting awareness about lung health issues affecting all Canadians.


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