Published On: Fri, Nov 9th, 2018

Asthma patient sounds the alarm over lack of proper medication

Minister Emil Lee~ Minister Lee says asthma medication Ventolin is not covered by SZV ~

PHILIPSBURG – An asthma patient has sounded the alarm over the lack of proper medication in St. Maarten, warning that the situation on the island is becoming “extremely serious.” Among the concerns are sharp increases in emergency room visits and in the number of people suffering from asthma due to the fires at the dump.

The patient informed stmaartennews.com that she had to travel all the way to the pharmacy in Maho to get Ventolin nebules for her nebulizer – a device for the administration of medication in the form of a mist inhaled into the lungs. Nebulizers are commonly used for the treatment of asthma, cystic fibrosis and other respiratory diseases or disorders.

According to the patient, most pharmacies do not stock Ventolin, a product of GlaxoSmithKline. “They have no idea when they will receive it again and they have started to bring in generics. I tried the generics and ended up having to call for ambulance assistance.”

It should be noted though that Ventolin has several possible side effects. They include, among many other issues, possible death in asthma patients who use too much Ventolin, worsening trouble breathing, coughing and wheezing (paradoxical bronchospasm). Among the more common side effects are sore throats, muscle pain, dizziness and palpitations.

Public Health Minister Emil Lee, in consultation with Inspector General Dr. Earl Best, has responded to these concerns at the request of stmaartennews.com. “Ventolin is not covered by SZV, making it not the drug of choice of pharmacies to keep in stock,” the minister stated in an email.

“The generic Salbutamol is locally widely available. Generic medications do work, however they may be less effective in some patients. This could be the case for those who have been taking a specific medication for a very long time. In these cases, based on clear medical indication, the possibility exists to authorize the prescription of Ventolin.”

The patient reported to stmaartennews.com that her 3-year old granddaughter had become the latest victim of the dump fires and the toxic smoke they emit. To get her the necessary medication, the Bush Road Pharmacy called around to several other outlets and finally found it at the Orange Grove pharmacy.

Minister Lee acknowledges that the smoke of the dump fires is “a valid concern” of asthma patients. “It is however important to note that bronchospasms are not only caused by dump fires. There are many other agents that may cause an inflammatory reaction of the airways such as dust, mites and mold.”

When nebulizing does not work and you have to call an ambulance or to find somebody who can take you to the hospital “that takes time you do not have before you lose consciousness” the patient notes.

Minister Lee: “Our emergency ambulance services are required to have a Ventolin/Salbutamol inhaler and nebulizer in their pharmaceutical arsenal to provide first aid in cases of spasm of the airways.”

The patient in the meantime has concerns that go beyond her own: “I pretty much know my body and my daughter has years of experience with my condition. But what about those who have been diagnosed recently and who do not understand what is happening?”

Minister Lee: “The general advice is to always consult with your physician to come to the appropriate diagnosis of care. Each person’s healthcare need is different and cannot be compared to another. It is important for persons to have the necessary and periodic discussions with their physicians to ensure continuity of care based on their needs.”

Minister Emil Lee at Dump testing site with VROMI Minister

Photo caption: Minister Emil Lee seen captured here on photo at a recent testing site at the dump to test the contents of the emissions of dump fires by a consultant hired through the World Bank. File photo provided.