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Health Care / health care

Asthma Drug Spending Soars in U.S.

photo of Maggie Fox
October 12, 2011

U.S. spending on asthma drugs more than quadrupled from $527 million to $2.5 billion in the 10 years from 1998 to 2008, according to government figures released on Wednesday.

Much of the reason is clear. The proportion of children who used a prescribed drug to treat their asthma doubled from 29 percent in 1997-1998 to 58 percent in 2007-2008, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

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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 in 2008 dollars.

Drugs to control asthma include corticosteroids to prevent inflammation, while asthma-reliever drugs include short-acting beta-2 agonists that make breathing easier. Leukotriene drugs help prevent asthma symptoms from occurring in the first place.
 
Between the late '90s and 2008, many more asthma patients used inhaled corticosteroids—an increase from 15.5 percent to 40 percent. Use of other drugs also increased—beta agonists from 3 percent to 13 percent, and leukotriene from 3 percent to 34 percent.
 
But fewer took corticosteroid pills, and annual spending on these pills fell from $25 million to $8 million in 2008 dollars.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 9.4 percent of U.S. children, or 7 million kids, have asthma. Nearly 8 percent of adults have asthma, or 17.5 million people. The CDC says the number of people diagnosed with asthma grew by 4.3 million from 2001 to 2009. Asthma rates rose 50 percent among black children during that time. Asthma kills more than 3,400 people a year.

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