Gasping for common sense

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If you re someone who relies on an over-the-counter inhaler to cope with asthma, you should be sure that you have a doctor s prescription for an albuterol inhaler by the end of this year. The FDA has been phasing out epinephrine inhalers over the past three years, and they will be completely banned by the start of 2012.

The removal of the over-the-counter inhalers from the market is a result of an agreement between the U.S. and other nations to curtail the use of gases that deplete the ozone layer. The OTC inhalers use chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as propellants. These chemicals were once necessary components of spray products and air conditioners, but are rarely used today. Albuterol inhalers require a doctor s prescription and use different propellants (hydrofluoralkanes) which have no effect on atmospheric ozone.

However, the environmentally friendly inhaler comes at a cost. Those who suffer from mild asthma may be used to spending $20 on the over-the-counter inhaler, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. Now they ll need a prescription for an inhaler that will cost from $30 to $60.

This is a symbolic but meaningless action that will harm asthmatics, says ACSH's Dr. Bloom. The amount of CFCs in asthma inhalers accounts for less than 0.1% of the total amount used for all other purposes. And for those who happen to forget their inhaler and get into trouble, their only option will be a trip to the emergency room, rather than the pharmacy.