Do you remember the CFC reduction efforts that went into effect in the latter half of the 20th century? CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, are a class of compounds that were traditionally used as refrigerants, solvents, or propellants in aerosol spray cans. When scientists determined that CFCs were contributing to the hole in the ozone layer. CFCs participate in a reaction with ozone where they act as a catalyst--i.e., they are not used up--that breaks ozone down into oxygen gas. Because individual CFC molecules are not used up in the reaction, a single CFC molecule may continue to break down thousands of ozone molecules over its lifetime.
What does this have to do with inhalers? By the end of 2008, CFC-containing inhalers will no longer be sold.
Traditional inhalers used to treat respiratory diseases like asthma used CFC-based propellants to deliver an aerosolized spray of medication directly to the lungs. But the time has come to phase out the old inhalers and replace them with new, more environmentally-friendly alternatives. The replacements, HFA inhalers, are just as effective as the old standbys without causing damage to the ozone layer or contributing to greenhouse gas production. The switch is a good thing, on the whole.
For once, Pharma is releasing a bunch of variations on their old products that aren't just a scam to extend their patents. They're actually doing something to help the environment. Y'know, aside from the fact that they're doing so because of Federal mandate.
There are a few minor issues that must be addressed. The new inhalers are just as good as the old ones, but FDA regulations consider them to be different, non-equivalent drug formulations. This means that you can't simply switch back and forth from CFC to HFA--in most states, the physician who writes the prescription must specify that the inhaler to be dispensed is an HFA inhaler. HFA inhalers are also going to cost slightly more--about $50 versus $30 for the old inhalers. But many manufacturers are distributing coupons that might help reduce costs for patients making the switch.
So if you use an inhaler, be prepared--you're going to have to switch, and soon. But the sooner the better, really. With every puff you're taking on an HFA inhaler instead of a CFC inhaler, you're contributing to the efforts to repair the ozone layer. That's like saving the world, one inhalation at at time.