‘A huge shock to the system’: Doctors warn about asthma inhaler switch coming in January

CNN — Starting January 1, a drug that thousands of patients depend on to help them breathe will disappear from pharmacy shelves, and doctors are concerned patients may have delays switching to alternatives and getting them covered by insurance.

Manufacturer GSK has said it’s discontinuing the branded asthma inhaler Flovent, and instead is making an “authorized generic” version, which is identical but without the same branding.

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Physicians who treat patients with asthma say the authorized generic will work just as well as the branded drug, but it doesn’t appear to be covered as widely by insurers.

That may mean patients will have to obtain new prescriptions and sort out coverage hurdles at the height of respiratory virus season.

“This medication has been the most commonly used inhaled medication for the past 25 or 30 years,” said Dr. Robyn Cohen, director of the Pediatric Pulmonary and Allergy Clinic at Boston Medical Center.

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“It’s the one that, overwhelmingly, pediatricians reach for when they decide that their patient needs a daily preventive medication. …The fact that it’s being discontinued is going to be a huge shock to the system for patients, for families and for doctors.”

Doctors are urging patients to take action now to ensure they’ve got their medicine heading into the new year and advocacy groups have been trying to get the word out.

But the story of why Flovent is disappearing, and the lack of insurance coverage for its ostensibly identical replacement, touches on some of the most complex facets of American health care and drug pricing.

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A spokeswoman for GSK said the company is making the change “as part of our commitment to be ambitious for patients … ”


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How Many People Die From Asthma?

  • On average, 10 people in the U.S. die from asthma each day.
  • In 2021, 3,517 people died from asthma. Nearly all of these deaths are avoidable with the right treatment and care.
  • In 2020, deaths due to asthma rose for the first time in 20 years.
  • Adults are six times more likely to die from asthma than children. SOURCE. 

What do rescue inhalers do?

MEDICAL NEWS TODAY – Relief from an asthma attack is the chief use.

An estimated 26.5 million Americans have asthma. It is a long-term condition that affects the lungs and airways.

During an asthma attack, the airways swell. This makes them narrower, causing a person to:

  • cough
  • wheeze
  • have trouble breathing

A rescue inhaler delivers medication that expands the airways, relieving these symptoms. This helps the person to recover from the attack and breathe normally.

Someone with asthma may also use a rescue inhaler before a workout to prevent an attack.

A person with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may also benefit from using a rescue inhaler if their symptoms worsen. Like asthma, COPD causes breathing difficulties.

A study from 2016Trusted Source found that people with COPD experienced relief from severe symptoms after using typical rescue inhalers. SOURCE 

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