The asthma drug Advair has made more money for GlaxoSmithKline than any other med to come out of Pharma Land.
I’m talking about numbers that are over $80 billion! And it’s pretty clear from these record-breaking sales that most patients are on it for extended periods of time, which is not how it was intended to be used.
And while you might suspect those amazing sales figures reflect just how many people suffer from asthma, it really all boils down to how well GSK markets this med to doctors. And that’s something the FDA just gave a great big helping hand.
At the end of last year, officials there waved their magic wands and made a very important warning go POOF!
The FDA’s latest move gives these drugs — which contain a combo of an inhaled corticosteroid and another med to open airways called a “long-acting beta agonist,” or LABA — a new aura of safety.
And that’s something Big Pharma can be expected to play up to the hilt.
If you or someone in your family uses one of these top-selling inhalers, you need to know that the risks they carry didn’t change — only the words on the packaging did.
Waiting to exhale
What bit the dust was an alert on Advair and a host of similar inhalers used for asthma and COPD that said — in bold caps, no less — “WARNING: ASTHMA-RELATED DEATH.”
There’s no doubt that on its own, LABA (one of Advair’s ingredients) can significantly up the risk of someone with asthma actually dying. Over a decade ago, researchers from Cornell and Stanford revealed the shocking truth that 4 in every 5 asthma-related deaths were being caused by inhalers containing LABA!
Take Lisa Wade, for instance. Lisa had what could be called “mild” asthma, involving a few serious attacks a year. But not too long after starting up on Advair, her condition got worse… much worse.
Just three weeks after her 17th birthday, one attack finally took her life.
Lisa’s parents held GSK responsible — and rightly so — after they spent months researching Advair and found a dozen similar reports of death had been submitted to the FDA.
So why, then, is the FDA, along with GSK and other drugmakers, waving around a just-completed study “confirming” that LABA is now safe?
They say that combining it with a steroid (exactly what Advair is) eliminates the need to warn potential users of these drugs of their death risk.
But some experts believe that drugs containing LABA don’t get asthma under control and actually make attacks worse — and that’s what appears to have happened to Lisa.
Certainly, stripping that serious warning from inhalers such as Advair Diskus, Advair HFA, Airduo Respiclick, Breo Elipta, Dulera, and Symbicort may cause doctors and patients to believe that the issue is settled once and for all.
But evidence to the contrary, such as the tragedy that befell the Wades, has been steadily mounting.
So, if you or a loved one are being prescribed one of these meds, you need to have a good sit-down meeting with your doctor to talk about the real-world risks that the FDA is trying so hard to dismiss.
And keep in mind that drugs such as Advair are NOT to be used when asthma is already well-managed… and should be given only for the shortest time necessary to get symptoms under control.
Once that happens, a “step-down” process is supposed to be initiated to discontinue their use.
Not too long ago, a prominent epidemiologist at the FDA said that he believed meds of this sort should be banned. While that’s certainly not likely to happen in the foreseeable future, with the help of a cooperative doctor, you can work on banning them from your life!
“FDA removes asthma death risk warning from ICS/LABA drugs” Salynn Boyles, December 21, 2017, Medpage Today, medpagetoday.com