Change in the Air; August 2008; Scientific American Magazine; by Emily Harrison; 2 Page(s)
A federal ban on ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), to conform with the Clean Air Act, is, ironically, affecting
22.9 million people in the U.S. who suffer from asthma. Generic inhaled albuterol, which is the most commonly prescribed short-acting asthma medication and requires CFCs to propel it into the lungs, will no longer be legally sold after December 31, 2008. Physicians and patients
are questioning the wisdom of the ban, which will have an insignificant effect on ozone but a measurable impact on wallets: the reformulated brand-name alternatives can be three times as expensive, raising the cost to about $40 per inhaler. The issue is even more disconcerting considering that asthma disproportionately
affects the poor and that, according to recent surveys, an estimated 20 percent of asthma patients are uninsured.
"The decision to make the change was political, not medical or scientific,¿ says pharmacist Leslie Hendeles of the University of Florida, who co-authored a 2007 paper in the New England Journal of Medicine explaining the withdrawal and transition. In 1987 Congress signed on to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, an international
treaty requiring the phasing out of all nonessential uses of CFCs. At that time, medical inhalers were considered an essential
use because no viable alternative propellant
existed. In 1989 pharmaceutical companies banded together and eventually,in 1996, reformulated albuterol with hydrofluoroalkane (HFA), an ozone-safe propellant. After more than one brand of HFA-albuterol became available, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared in 2005 that CFC inhalers were no longer essential and must be completely off the shelves by the last day of this year.