Essential Drug Supplies for Virus Patients Are Running Low

“In general, that’s good advice up front,” Mr. Schondelmeyer said. “But with drugs like albuterol, we’re not going to be able to sustain that because we’re already on short supply.”

Two pharmaceutical companies that make albuterol inhalers — GlaxoSmithKline and Teva Pharmaceuticals — have said they are facing unprecedented demand but did not have any supply chain issues at the moment. Kelley Dougherty, a spokeswoman for Teva Pharmaceuticals, said the company was “producing as much albuterol as possible as quickly as possible.”

Pfizer, which makes several versions of the sedative midazolam, also noted that its distribution network continues to operate without significant disruption. “For many of these critical medicines, we have ample supply. For some, the unprecedented surge in demand for these products is limiting our ability to fully satisfy customer orders in the short-term,” said Kimberly Bencker, a spokeswoman for the company.

Pharmacy benefit managers, such as CVS Caremark, are also trying to balance the growing interest in prescription medications for the coronavirus response with the needs of patients who take them for chronic conditions like asthma, H.I.V., rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

“Our goal is to limit stockpiling of medication that could result in future shortages and gaps in care,” said Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS. Retail pharmacies are following state dispensing guidelines, and limiting the dispensing for coronavirus treatments to a 10-day supply in states without set recommendations, Mr. DeAngelis said. People who already take these medications for approved uses will be able to bypass any new quantity limits agreed to by their plan sponsor.

Experts still advise that patients avoid hoarding medications because the regional shortages could soon turn into national shortages as coronavirus infections continue to spread.

While the pandemic has sparked innovations in mechanical breathing machines, and some medical supplies can be sourced from the national stockpile, drugs are not as easy to replace. “If you get past a peak in a certain area, you could move resources like ventilators somewhere else, but drugs are consumables,” Mr. Schondelmeyer said. “They’re gone once they’re used.”

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