Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Doctors Say Asthma Medicine May Be Dangerous Some Drugs Are Easily Abused

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Doctors Say Asthma Medicine May Be Dangerous Some Drugs Are Easily Abused

Article excerpt

Nearly 120 people across Missouri called the poison control center here in recent years about potential adverse reactions after taking the asthma drug Primatene.

In October, a man from Springfield, Mo., 37, collapsed and died after he emptied a container of Primatene Mist and injected the liquid into a vein, officials of the center said last week.

But that was an unusual case of drug abuse, doctors say. In Missouri, most problems from Primatene Mist or its tablet form are milder side effects. The drug contains epinephrine, a potent stimulant that relieves symptoms of asthma but also may accelerate the heartbeat.

Doctors say there are better ways to treat asthma. But, as the poison control centers numbers show, many Missourians are still using an old - and perhaps dangerous - drug to cope with breathing problems.

Debate over such drugs began anew last week after the death of model Krissy Taylor, 17, at her home in Broward County, Fla. She had used Primatene for asthma symptoms for a year. Such self-treatment is common, doctors say. So is abuse of Primatene and other over-the-counter asthma drugs.

Taylor's death renewed calls to ban sale of all over-the-counter asthma drugs, called broncho-dilators. Primatene's manufacturer, Whitehall-Robins Healthcare of Madison, N.J., disagrees.

For 30 years, the drug has "played an important role for the millions of consumers with mild asthma," according to a statement released by company officials last week. Package inserts for the drug tell consumers to use it only if a doctor has diagnosed their breathing problems as caused by asthma, they said.

Doctors say this view is dangerously antiquated for almost all asthmatics, with the possible exception of those who cannot afford prescription drugs.

For 20 years, safer and more effective broncho-dilators - called beta-2 agonists - have been available by prescription. Supporters of a ban on Primatene and similar nonprescription drugs call them the "dinosaurs" of asthma treatment. They say the medical risks from taking such drugs are too serious to continue to allow their sale. FDA Advisers Reject Ban

Both sides gave their case at a hearing in November in Washington. An advisory group of the Food and Drug Administration weighed the arguments, then ruled against a ban, saying that the over-the-counter drugs fill a niche for poor people who can't afford prescription drugs and for people who travel and leave their prescriptions behind. …

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