Sign of the times: Patients increasingly requesting refills for anxiety and asthma meds

Doctors warn of a potential shortage of asthma drugs

empty prescription bottles
Empty prescription bottles. MPR News weekly medical analyst Dr. Jon Hallberg says many people who don’t have chronic asthma are requesting asthma medications, fueling concern about a potential shortage of the drugs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Haley Lawrence for Unsplash file

Dr. Jon Hallberg’s clinic is pretty quiet these days, now that nonurgent visits have been canceled to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But he is getting a lot of calls for prescription refills — namely, anti-anxiety medications, sleep aids and asthma medicine.

“I suppose that’s very telling of the times that we're in,” said Hallberg, the medical director of the University of Minnesota Physician’s Mill City Clinic. “We're very aware of the toll that this is taking on people's mental health.”

He said many of those requesting asthma medicine do not have chronic asthma and want to renew past prescriptions for inhalers they used to overcome a cold or some other acute illness. Hallberg said people without chronic asthma should refrain from making such requests.

“It's really hard because we are hearing at the clinic level and at the hospital level that these medications are already in short supply,” he said. “We're going to have to ration this to some extent. And having it on hand sure makes a lot of sense, but I don't think that we can afford to be doing that for everybody right now.”

Hallberg discussed this with MPR News host Tom Crann, as well as how he and other’s in the medical field are adapting their work during the pandemic. To hear the full conversation, click play on the audio player above.

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