The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 6, 2013

Joe Hadsall: Inhaler-makers can't leave well enough alone

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — I got a prime chance to be like the movies last week. After my inhaler medication for asthma ran out, I decided that I had the strength, self-confidence and faith in my abilities that I didn't need asthma medications anymore. Like Mikey in "Goonies" and Superman and Lois Lane's kid in "Superman Returns," I stopped being asthmatic.

About 40 minutes later, between wheezy gasps, I was begging the pharmacist to check and make sure I was really out of refills.

Let me back up: I've had asthma since I was a kid. But my pediatrician always prescribed an oral medication, not an inhaler. That meant for years I'd suffer through attacks by using a preventive, and I had nothing to rescue me through a tight spot of tight lungs.

I got my first inhaler as a senior in high school from an ER doctor in Kansas. My life has been magically breathable ever since. It's amazing how well asthma meds work when they go directly to the lungs!

I take Combivent, which is a mix of a preventive and rescue inhaler. For years, I used an inhaler called Proventil, which was I think just a fancy name for albuterol. It worked just fine.

But then someone in a position of power decided that the chlorofluorocarbons used as a propellant in my little canister of clear breathing was more deadly to the ozone layer than all those cans of hair spray and Axe body spray in salons and retail stores around the world. So they Ñ whoever "they" are Ñ jacked with my inhaler by mixing meds with other propellants. My old medicine disappeared and got replaced with something more expensive and less effective.

Until Combivent, none of them seemed to work well. I was happy with Combivent. I even learned how to bargain and get extra doses from an apparently empty inhaler.

But now they've jacked with it again. I can't get Combivent in a metered dose inhaler anymore. It now comes delivered in a new "soft mist inhaler." Just the name sounds like that of a compilation album by adult jazz artists.

I liked my old metered dose inhaler because it could be stretched and bargained with. Through a combination of knowing when to shake it and when not to shake it, I found that I could get desperation doses in those times when I didn't call for a refill with enough time.

But this soft mist inhaler is kind of creepy. Manufactured by a German company, the inhaler has to be cocked and shot like a toy gun, but when it fires, a slow fog is released. It has a little gauge on the side that show remaining doses, so there appears to be no room for bargaining.

The science of this new, creepy inhaler actually appears to be pretty solid: My old MDIs were more like a toy gun in that they shot medicine like a BB on the back of my throat sometimes when I didn't line it up and breathe properly. The slow misty fog that comes out of the SDI is easier to breathe. But the gauge on the side reminds me to not waste doses by showing off how this thing works.

Still, I wish they would stop messing with my inhalers. Change usually stresses me out, and changing something that helps me breath is downright terrifying.

But when this thing runs out, I can just decide to stop being asthmatic again, right?