When it comes to prescription drugs, I often advise you to look first at generics. They’re less expensive. Plus, they’ve been on the market longer. So, generally, they’re safer too. But you can’t follow this sound advice if you live in the United States and have asthma. In this country, we can’t get generic asthma medications.
Fortunately, you do have a powerful, effective, and natural option for treating this chronic disease. And it will probably save you money. I’ll tell you more about that option in a moment.
But first, consider this…
Asthma is the No. 1 most common chronic disease in the United States. It affects 40 million people, including many children. But Big Pharma, the EPA, and the FDA keep a chokehold on our access to generic asthma drugs in this country. So certain drugs most needed and most used by Americans don’t have generic alternatives.
Sadly, if you live in the U.S., you probably end up paying close to $1,000 per year for brand-name asthma medications. And that’s with good insurance. But who knows what will really happen once the Affordable Care Act (ACA) kicks in.
Plus, generic drugs for asthma do exist! In fact, the common, name-brand steroid inhaler Pulmicort costs $175 in the U.S. And that’s just for a one-month’s supply. But in Europe, they have a generic version of Pulmicort. And it costs just $20.
So, exactly how did Big Pharma use the EPA and the FDA to place Americans into this unfortunate chokehold?
It all started in the 1970s and 1980s when asthma inhalers contained propellants, such as chloro-fluorcarbons (CFCs). These propellants push the active medicine into your lungs.
But, as you’re probably well aware, CFCs are bad for the environment. They’re also terrible for your lungs. And for your heart. In fact, inhaled CFCs cause abnormal heartbeats. And in the 70s and 80s, this led to many inhaler-related deaths.
In 1981, I published a review on the toxicity of these harmful propellants with one of my professors at the University of Pennsylvania. At around the same time, Senator Al Gore (D-TN) was pushing efforts to ban the use of CFCs in aerosol cans for the sake of the environment.
In the early 1990s, I actually sat next to Gore’s legislative director on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Memphis. At the time, I was an associate medical director at Walter Reed Medical Center. So, during our plane ride, I told Gore’s legislative director about our findings that CFCs in asthma inhalers caused deaths.
Gore’s director asked me to send them the background. So, when I returned to my office, I compiled all the scientific evidence and sent it to Sen. Gore’s team. I never heard back from them. But they persisted and CFCs were banned…even from asthma inhalers.
Now, remember, CFCs initially came under fire because they harmed the ozone layer. But, truly, the old asthma inhalers contained miniscule amounts of CFCs. Sure, it was enough to harm patients. But it was not enough to harm the environment. So, government regulators at the EPA probably would have granted Big Pharma a free pass. (It’s not as if that hadn’t happened before with the FDA.)
Except for one thing…
Big Pharma actually wanted the CFC ban to include asthma inhalers. In fact, they went on the offensive. And lobbied very hard to have the EPA get rid of CFCs in inhalers.
And they got what they wanted: The CFC ban was applied to asthma propellants.
So, Big Pharma had to remake all the old inhalers using hydrofluoroalkane (HKA). In other words, the active drugs they used didn’t change. Just the propellant used to push the drugs into your airways. (By the way, experts now consider HKA a “greenhouse gas” danger to the environment.)
However, the FDA required Big Pharma to apply for new patents for these old drugs. At first, you might think this would end up costing Big Pharma. But quite the opposite occurred.
In fact, Big Pharma essentially re-issued the same, old drugs…just under a different patent. And they started charging top dollar for the “new drugs.” And the new patents on the “new drugs” extended their money train.
Big Pharma even re-patented Albuterol–one of the oldest asthma drugs–because it used a different propellant. Albuterol cost less than $15 a decade ago. But today, with the new patent, it costs up to $100 for a month’s supply.
And remember Pulmicort–the popular inhaled steroid I mentioned earlier? Well, plan on budgeting at least $175 per month for it for another five years. Its new patent doesn’t expire until 2018.
As a recent New York Times article made clear, the lack of cost control and patent regulation on these life-saving medications means Big Pharma can gouge vulnerable asthma patients (and parents) to their heart’s content. Thanks to the EPA and the FDA. It’s enough to take your breath away.
Even when the patents do expire on these asthma inhalers, don’t expect a flurry of generics to hit the market. Asthma inhalers are particularly hard to duplicate. Because they are protected by a string of patents that cover the pump design, the delivery system, and even the production process. Plus, Big Pharma pays generic drug makers not to make cheaper versions of their drugs, once the patents expire. (How is this legal in a free-market society?)
But one good thing did come about from the concern over dangerous CFCs in asthma inhalers…
The FDA became interested in alternative treatments for asthma. And, as it turns out, acupuncture is a safe, effective, drug-free alternative.
In 1994, I published a review of all the evidence on acupuncture for the treatment of asthma. This review caught the attention of FDA scientists. And they volunteered to work overtime to push through the re-classification of the acupuncture needle from an experimental device to a therapeutic device.
This meant that insurance companies began to cover acupuncture for asthma. So today, if you have good insurance, you can probably pay $20 to $40 per visit to receive treatment for asthma from an acupuncturist. Now, here again, who knows what will really happen when the ACA hits. But in the meantime, you do have affordable, non-drug treatment options. And it’s effective too.
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1. “The Soaring Cost of Simple Breath,” The New York Times (www.nytimes.com), October 12, 2013