Project 21 New Visions

Cherylyn Harley LeBon

EPA Regulations Take Peoples' Breath Away


by Cherylyn Harley LeBon (bio)

 

Primatene Mist is an over-the-counter (OTC) inhaler that has been used safely for over 50 years by millions of people coping with asthma. It was the only non-prescription inhaler available to the public before it was banned for sale by the Environmental Protection Agency on January 1, 2012.

The EPA banned the inhaler to comply with an international treaty — the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This treaty determined that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) damage the ozone layer and must be outlawed.

CFCs help propel the Primatene Mist into the user's lungs, and this is where it gets interesting. When the EPA instituted the ban in November 2008, it was assumed that a replacement OTC inhaler would be available for purchase at drug stores, grocery stores and convenience stores by the beginning of 2012. They were mistaken. Today, there is still no such inhaler available for the two to three million people who regularly used Primatene Mist before the ban.

There are typically two kinds of Primatene Mist users. The first category consists of people lacking access to prescription inhalers because they lack health insurance or cannot afford a doctor's visit to get a prescription. The second category consists of people who have health insurance but prefer an OTC inhaler. People in the latter category believe that Primatene Mist is the most effective way to treat their symptoms or simply prefer it to prescription inhalers. While their reasons may be different, the one thing Primatene Mist users now have in common is an inability to buy the OTC emergency inhaler because of the federal government's lack of foresight.

As the mother of two asthmatic children, I fault the EPA for intruding on my life and hurting my ability to make the best decisions for my children.

Without an OTC option, asthma sufferers must now go to a physician and get a prescription inhaler.  Given the proposed changes to our health care system, do we really need another reason to deal with our health care bureaucracy?

Members of my family suffers from seasonal allergies. While there are a variety of effective prescription drugs available, we prefer OTC options because they are cheaper, available at wholesale clubs and — most importantly — don't require a pediatrician appointment or follow-up trip to the drugstore.  In other words, the EPA eliminated the options provided by Primatene Mist.

Since the ban began, the company that makes Primatene Mist — Amphastar — has received thousands of complaints and inquiries from past customers who want the inhaler back on the market.  Today, there are approximately 1.2 million of the inhalers sitting in warehouses. Nevertheless, the EPA has rejected offers by Amphastar to put these inhalers back in stores as it works to perfect a non-CFC alternative inhaler. Unwilling to sit back and let these inhalers collect dust, Amphastar is fighting to get the inhalers back on store shelves and guarantee that all profits would be donated to charity.  An on-line petition and Facebook campaign encourage the EPA to put the remaining supply back on the market.

Environmentalists can continue their debate about the ozone layer, but I am more concerned about access to affordable and readily available inhalers. I don't want decisions vital to my family's immediate health made by some bureaucrat in a windowless office.

The EPA showed a lack of foresight when they banned the Primatene Mist emergency inhaler. But rather than do the right thing and reverse course, the EPA is refusing to budge.  This is unfortunate because the real losers are asthma sufferers who want the freedom to choose for themselves and their family the best course to treat their suffering.

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Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a former senior counsel on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, is a member of the Project 21 black leadership network. Follow her on Twitter (@HarleyLeBon). Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.


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