June 13, 2006
Asthma drugs carry increased death risk, study says
Popular long-acting asthma medicines, such as GlaxoSmithKline’s Advair and Serevent, have been shown to increase severe and life-threatening asthma exacerbations and asthma-related deaths, according to a study appearing in an upcoming issue of journal Annals of Internal Medicine (AIM). The analysis also found that the risks posed by long-acting bronchodilators, which when used widen the air passages of the lungs, affect a wide range of patients and more than double the rate at which asthma sufferers needed to be hospitalized. “The use of long-acting [bronchodilators] could be associated with a clinically significant number of unnecessary hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and deaths each year,” the authors wrote. “Black box warnings on the labeling for these agents clearly outline the increased risk for asthma related deaths associated with their use but these warnings have not changed prescribing practices of physicians.” According to the study, Advair Diskus “may be responsible” for as many as 4,000 of the 5,000 asthma related deaths each year in the US. IMS Health figures show the drug brought in $3.4 billion for Glaxo last year. “What we have here is a drug that increases the number of people who will die from the disease it is treating,” the study’s lead author, Shelley Salpeter of Stanford University said in a report in The Washington Post. “The long-acting bronchodilators can help reduce symptoms for may people, but we think the price in terms of serious side effects and deaths is unacceptable.” The complete study will appear in the June 20 issue of AIM.