People who suffer from asthma and related breathing disorders have seen the cost of their medications soar thanks to a decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Aerosol inhalers powered by Freon (R) have been used to treat breathing difficulties since their introduction in 1957. In December 2013, the FDA banned the last of the Freon (or “CFC”) powered inhalers, a product called Combivent. The new version of the product, using a non-Freon propellant, costs about $250. Before the FDA announced its plans to ban CFC inhalers, Combivent could be purchased for about $60.
The FDA’s action was supposedly justified by a 1987 international treaty that eliminated practically all uses of Freon in order to protect the Earth’s ozone layer. The treaty made an exemption for the use of Freon in medical products. There was general agreement that the use of Freon in medical inhalers was a negligible source of damage to the atmosphere. It was up to the government of each country to decide whether to continue to use Freon inhalers.
Despite questions about cost and whether the new inhalers were as good, the FDA went forward with plans to eliminate the Freon inhalers used in the USA. FDA staff called for testimony as part of the rule making process. Comments arrived from users of the Freon inhalers asking the FDA to refrain from banning those products. The pleas from consumers did not alter the ultimate decision.
About 25 million Americans suffer from asthma and related breathing disorders. Asthmatic attacks can be frightening and stressful. About 3400 people in the USA die from asthma each year. It is not clear that any of the deaths could be prevented by the use of the banned inhalers. But physicians and the Centers for Disease Control have agreed for years that management of asthma has been hampered by the steep cost of inhalers. The decision of the FDA to ban the less-expensive Freon inhalers will cause added suffering. Congress has the power to reverse this poor decision if people will speak up.

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