Most folks probably don't even remember chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs — those nasty ozone-depleting chemicals that caused such a stir a few decades ago and were banned in the late '70s. Apparently, even since the ban, CFCs have been permitted in medical products when the FDA deems them essential. But that is about to end as the FDA recently announced that asthma inhalers that use CFCs will be banned at the start of the new year.
Right now, the inhaler under scrutiny is Primatene Mist, a popular asthma inhaler used by roughly 2 million patients each year. It's also the only over-the-counter inhaler currently available in the U.S. market without a prescription. Primatene Mist uses CFCs to propel medicine out of the inhaler so it can be drawn into the lungs. According to the FDA, other asthma-inhaler manufacturers now use a propellant called hydrofluoroalkane, which is less harmful to the environment.
Primatene Mist is marketed by Armstrong Pharmaceuticals, a unit of Amphastar. Two other prescription asthma inhalers that use CFCs are to be phased out by the end of 2013. They are Boehringer Ingelheim's Combivent Inhalation Aerosol and Graceway Pharmaceuticals' Maxair Autohaler.