If one didn’t know any better they would think that all bans on CFCs came directly from the EPA in reference to depletion of the Ozone layer. That’s not the case when it comes to OTC Asthma inhalers. This ban is a direct result of lobbying by big pharma.
In 1987 nations around the world signed the Montreal Protocol in an effort to work towards eliminating ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). This was potentially devastating news to the pharmaceutical companies that produced asthma inhalers. The primary propllents in inhalers at the time were CFCs. The pharmaceutical industry was resilient at the time however and started working towards alternative solutions.
Big pharma’s answer to the overall problem was to begin writing and submitting new patents on several different ideas they had come up with, as to corner the market before anyone else did. In addition, in 1989 Glaxo along with other firms formed the International Pharmaceutical Aerosol Consortium (IPAC) with the sole idea of creating an ozone-friendly CFC-free product. By 1997 this became a reality when the first hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) inhalers hit pharmacy shelves. Unfortunately for the pharmaceutical companies, this would be a short-lived victory.
The IPAC companies claimed to have spent over $1 billion in the move to create ozone-friendly inhalers. Needless to say they were less than thrilled when environmental scientists started raising concerns about the effects of HFCs. This time not on its effects on the ozone layer, but a new enemy number one; climate change. Since HFCs are considered to be greenhouse gases, the scientists became more worried that HFCs were more harmful than CFCs. Researchers along with one generic drug company made the assertion that it might be better to stick with CFC based inhalers after all. The argument from the generic drug company was also based on the fact that the new HFC based inhalers were pricier than CFC inhalers available on the market.
IPAC and its companies took almost immediate action shifting IPAC from an R&D group to a Washington lobbyist group with the purpose of getting the government to outlaw CFC inhalers. Their change paid off and by 2005 they were able to convince the FDA to issue a ban on most CFC-based inhalers starting almost four years later in 2009 with the rest to be phased out completely by 2013. The phases are being culminated this year as two important products for treating acute and minor asthma attacks have been placed on the chopping block; Aerobid and epinephrine inhalers. The latter being the popular product ‘Primatine Mist’ here in the United States.
With Aerobid being banned this past June and the Primatine Mist ban going into effect by December 31, asthma sufferers will have no choice but to switch to prescription based asthma inhalers as Primatine Mist is the last over-the-counter inhaler on the market in the U.S. This will raise the cost to consumers anywhere from $10-$40 each time they need to pick up a new prescription. That’s not including the additional medical costs for having to see their doctor for a prescription. The added expense is estimated to cost insurance companies, consumers, and the government nearly $8 billion by 2017. A clear victory for the pharmaceutical industry.
So who is to blame for letting asthma sufferers down in this situation? The truth is it comes from all sides:
- A lack in understanding back in the late 80′s of the true effects of CFC-based inhalers on the environment, which has now shown to only produce 1,300 tons of CFC emissions. While that number may seem large, it’s not at all when you consider CFCs used to be output by 8.3 million tons.
- A government too quick to act on the idea that something might be toxic in the atmosphere. While considerations should always be made, facts should be allowed to come to fruition first. A government that would also rather listen to lobbyists than do what’s right by people who suffer from a medical condition.
- Big Pharma. Let’s be honest when we say that Big Pharma cares more about their profit margin than they do the people they are allegedly trying to help. The industry just as easily could have supported both CFC and other products. However after spending so much money, Big Pharma wasn’t going to allow that to happen and it’s thanks to them the industry is what it is today.
Unfortunately we live in a world today where big corporations rule the world. Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing wrong with corporations overall and a lot of the good things that they do for the world. However there are a few evil ones out there like the major pharmaceutical companies, who are doing much more than ‘protecting’ their businesses. They have created a monopoly in the United States that is dangerous and goes against everything health care is supposed to be about.
Thanks to Big Pharma and their Washington lobby, children and adults who suffer from asthma will now suffer even more because of the actions of a few. People who once had an inexpensive alternative to fight their disease are now stuck with no alternative than to feed the pockets of the industry. Some would even say the products are inferior from what they once were. What a true disservice to these people and what a true disservice to the American way.