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Pharmacies battling drug shortages amid COVID-19 crisis

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Many businesses are shutdown due to COVID-19 but some vital services have to continue, like pharmacies.

Not only is there the risk of disease spread at pharmacies, but CBS 58 Investigates learned drug shortages making it harder for pharmacists to serve patients.

“I’ve been a pharmacist for 21 years and never, never seen anything like this before,” said Dr. Hashim Zaibak, owner of Hayat Pharmacies.

Dr. Zaibak says he’s encouraging patients to use Hayat’s delivery service. But it’s not just disease spread he’s worried about; it’s drug shortages. A big one is albuterol, an inhaler used to treat asthma.

“It’s not alarming yet,” Dr. Zaibak said. “Thank God we’re able to get it maybe from different suppliers.”

Dr. Michael Ganio with the American Society of Hospital Pharmacies tells 58 Investigates hospital pharmacists are also seeing a shortage of drugs for patients on ventilators, things like sedatives and blood pressure medicines.

“We’re used to taking care of our patients through these supply concerns,” Dr. Ganio said. “What’s unusual about COVID-19 has been the potential impact on the supply chain where our drugs are made. We have a lot of our drugs that are sourced from China.”

The good news, Dr. Ganio says manufacturing in China is starting up again.

Meanwhile Dr. Zaibak says there is also a shortage of employees. Many are not able to work because they don’t have childcare.

The American Society of Hospital Pharmacies is calling for four legislative changes they say will help in this crisis

1. Allow pharmacists test and treat things like COVID-19, strep and the flu.

2. Allow pharmacists and pharmacy technicians with valid licenses to operate across state lines so they can do some things remotely.

3. Let pharmacists substitute drugs without doctor authorization, which will help with shortages.

4. Remove restrictions to allow for home and mail delivery.

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