Only over-the-counter inhaler off shelves in 2011

Primatene Mist inhaler to be phased out by December 31 due to ozone-destroying CFCs

If you are among the 2 million Americans depending on a drugstore inhaler to deal with asthma, it may be time to schedule a doctor’s appointment. At the end of the year, your only non-prescription treatment option is coming off the shelves.

The issue isn’t the medication, sold as Primatene Mist. For years, it has offered safe treatment for mild asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath. But the inhaler contains ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which long have been scheduled for phasing out.

After Dec. 31, you won’t be able to buy Primatene Mist, the only over-the-counter inhaler approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat asthma. Your alternatives are prescription drugs that are more expensive and require the time and cost of a doctor’s visit.

Primatene’s manufacturer says it’s working on a CFC-free substitute, but no one expects it to reach the market before the end-of-year deadline.

“Is this going to affect certain patients? Absolutely,” said Dr. Richard Lockey, director of the division of allergy and immunology at the University of South Florida College of Medicine. “When you take [Primatene Mist] off the market and there’s nothing to replace it you have an added cost for patients.’’

Already, the FDA is warning that store supplies may run low before December. (If you choose to stock up, pay attention to expiration dates.)

Now this health issue has taken a political turn. After health officials urged consumers last week to talk to their doctors about a prescription for another medication, conservative bloggers started weighing in.

“It seems that the Obama administration would rather make people with asthma cough up money than let them make a surely inconsequential contribution to depleting the ozone layer,” the Weekly Standard wrote.

In reality, the phaseout just happens to fall on President Barack Obama’s watch. The FDA finalized the deadline in 2008, when Republican George W. Bush was president. The international treaty sealing the fate of CFCs dates back to 1987.