Asthma Drug Spending Soars in U.S.

According to new government figures U.S. spending on asthma drugs more than quadrupled in the 10 years from 1998 to 2008.  During that time, annual costs rose from $527 million to $2.5 billion.

Many of the reasons are clear.  Firstly, the the number of people diagnosed with asthma grew by 4.3 million between 2001 to 2009. Asthma rates rose 50% among black children during that time.  And the problem is still growing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 7 million kids and nearly 17.5 million adults suffer from asthma.

Secondly, the proportion of children who used a prescribed drug to treat their asthma doubled from 29% between 1997-1998 to 58% between 2007-2008.  Overall, spending on drugs to control asthma grew from $280 million in the late 1990s to $2.1 billion by 2008. In that same period, spending on drugs to relieve immediate symptoms grew from $222 million to $352 million.

Thirdly, annual spending on older, less expensive drugs such as oral corticosteroids has fallen, while newer more expensive medications have taken their place.  Examples of more expensive medications include,  inhaled corticosteroids which prevent inflammation and control asthma; reliever drugs such as short-acting beta-2 agonists (SABA’s) that make breathing easier and leukotriene receptor antagonists which help prevent asthma symptoms from occurring in the first place.

Over the past decade there has been a 25% rise in the number of patients using inhaled corticosteroids, a 10% rise in the use of beta agonists and a 31% rise in leukotriene receptor agonists such as Montelukast (sold as Singulair®) and Zafirlukast (sold as Accolate®).

Do these spiraling costs take your breath away or suggest that asthma is being better controlled?  Let us know your thoughts.

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