OPINION: Can’t people read labels?

November 16, 2012 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Replacement asthma medication and the effect of side effects
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Awhile ago, while watching TV, I came across a commercial for a new over-the-counter asthma inhaler, Asthmanefrine. Curious, I asked my pharmacist about it. She said it was a good  product, and that it avoids some of pitfalls of the now-unavailable medicine it replaced, Primatene Mist.

But let’s talk a little about the aforementioned Primatene Mist. I always had a prescription inhaler, albuterol, which was far more effective, but there were times when I was temporarily out of albuterol or had used up all my refills and had to wait until Monday to call the pharmacist. 

And on those occasions, Primatene came very much in handy, especially during those days, when I had very serious asthma.

Yes, I’m very much aware of Primatene’s side effects. It had a taste that was very jarring, it sped up one’s heart, it often gave someone a headache, and was nowhere near as effective as albuterol.  

But searching the web, I came across many cases of people who temporarily forgot their albuterol inhaler, had a serious asthma attack, and whose lives were saved because someone was able to go to the drugstore around the corner and buy Primatene mist.  

I then looked for cases of people who were killed by using Primatene mist. I only came across a mention of one or two. I also didn’t find any cases in which the company that made Primatene was sued.

What many doctors and others who successfully led the fight to ban Primatene were afraid, it seems to me, was the fact that some people might not have good sense enough to read the warnings on the label. This is just plain silly. In a case where a drug has been proven to cause deaths, of course it should be banned. 

But it seems to me that people should be allowed to take responsibility for their own healthcare decisions. In this day and age, when so much information is available on the web, there’s no real excuse for not knowing the side effects of a medication.

And of course, in the case of Primatene, when druggists see someone continuously buying such an over-the-medication and using it as his sole medication for a serious illness, they should talk to the purchaser and try to persuade them to see a doctor and get a prescription medication. 

And if that person is a low-income person, the best way to make sure that everyone has access to quality medications is to make health insurance universal.

I don’t regret the loss of Primatene Mist, but I do wish that patients and users had had a hand in the decision-making process. It’s the patient who had extreme anxiety when he lost his albuterol and couldn’t get a refill for another day or so. At least the patients’ viewpoint should have been considered.

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