As reported today by the Washington Post, Primatene Mist’s days are numbered. The FDA announced today that "the only over-the-counter asthma inhaler sold in the United States will no longer be available next year as part of an international agreement to stop the use of substances that damage the environment."
This is because, similar to the old albuterol meter dose inhalers, Primatene Mist uses a CFC as a propellant which is harmful to the environment. I blogged about this previously (see FDA Announces End for CFC-Propelled Inhalers Asthma inhalers and More on Asthma Inhalers ).
However, the loss of Primatene Mist is a good thing in my opinion. Primatene Mist is epinephrine. It is a bronchodilator, which is why it relieves the symptoms of asthma. However, it is quite dangerous, especially without a prescription. First, it is not just a beta 2 agonist like albuterol which works almost exclusively on beta receptors in the lungs. It also aftects beta 1 receptors in the heart and alpha receptors in the blood vessels. The primary use of epinephrine is medicine today is to give it to patients who are a risk of immediate death in order to restart their hearts. In addition, having any bronchodilator, even albuterol, over the counter, is a bad thing. We know that increased albuterol use is associated with increased ER visits, hospitalizations and even death. But at least we can monitor albuterol use, because it must be prescribed by a physician. We have no way of knowing if a patient is taking too much Primatene mist until they are dead.
Under a physician's supervision, with a proper asthma plan and additional chronic maintenance medications for asthma, such as inhaled corticosteroids, bronchodilators can be used safely and effectively. However, over-use of these medications especially in the absence of inhaled corticosteroids is dangerous. This is why I never write an albuterol prescription with any refills. If your asthma is well controlled, one albuterol inhaler should last you a year and you shouldn't need refills. If you are refilling the albuterol more than one time in a year, by the NIH's criteria, your asthma is not under control and you may need to change to a stronger daily medication (for example, switch from Singulair to an inhaled corticosteroid or ICS, or switch from an ICS to an ICS/LABA combination).
For those patients without prescription insurance who relied on the relatively low cost of OTC Primatene mist, be advised the GSK makes a sample size of Ventolin HFA (60 inhalations) that is only $9 out of pocket (regardless of insurance) at most major retail pharmacies. This will of course require a doctor's prescrition, but I believe that is a good thing for the reasons stated above.