Over-the-Counter Inhalers No More: FDA Phases out CFC Containing Inhalers

As of December 31st, 2011, asthmatic consumers will be required to rely on prescription inhalers to relieve their breathing troubles.

As of December 31st, 2011, asthmatic consumers will be required to rely on prescription inhalers to relieve their breathing troubles, as the only remaining over-the-counter inhaler sold in the US will no longer be available.

Primatene Mist, an epinephrine-containing inhaler with chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), will be banned as a part of an effort finalized in 2008 by the US and various other nations to cease the use of substances which can corrode the ozone layer.

CHS is an aerosol known to erode the ozone layer and, over the last few years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been yanking products containing CHS off the market.

Inhalers containing CHS will be banned, but green alternatives will still be available with a prescription. Other inhaler producers have changed their product’s propellants from CHS to the environmentally friendly hydrofluoroalkane (HFA).

Both types of inhalers offer relief from asthma symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest tightness, but the environmentally friendly inhalers are prescription-only.

“There are many other safe and effective medications to treat the symptoms of asthma,” reported Badrul Chowdhury, MD, PhD, director of FDA’s Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Rheumatology Products. "If you rely on an over-the-counter inhaler to relieve your asthma symptoms, it is important that you contact a health care professional to talk about switching to a different medicine to treat your asthma.”

Going green, however, carries a price for patients—a hefty one.

Over the counter epinephrine inhalers cost roughly $20, but prescription inhalers can cost anywhere between $30 and $60.

The FDA has suggested that if it is difficult for consumers to pay for their new medications, they:

  • Ask their primary care physicians about programs that help patients get necessary medication.
  • Ask the company that produces the inhaler prescribed by their health care professional if they have a patient-assistance program, which may aid the consumer in getting the medication at a low price.
  • Frequent free local clinics and public hospitals.

One advantage of mandating all inhalers be prescription-based is it forces potential asthmatics to be diagnosed by their physicians. “If you have breathing problems but have not been diagnosed by a health care professional, it’s important to see one,” stated Chowdhury. “Not all breathing problems are asthma, so you need to get an accurate diagnosis and the proper medicine.”