Why Are Asthma Drugs Killing More People than Asthma?

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

The pharmaceutical industry and the FDA have found some popular asthma drugs including Symbicort, Advair Diskus, and Foradil can cause asthma related deaths in children and African Americans. The FDA and the pharmaceutical industry use warning labels, but the drugs are still in widespread use and the companies continue to downplay and conceal the risks.

These drugs, called Long-Acting Beta Agonists (LABA), help to expand the airways, but also may increase one’s heart rate. A trial, conducted in 2003 by SMART (Salmetrol Multi-Center Asthma Research) found many severe incidents, including 16 deaths, 44 intubations, and 369 hospitalizations for patients using LABAs, mostly in African Americans. LABAs are estimated to kill 4000 asthma patients a year, leading a clinical professor of medicine at Stanford University, Shelley Salpeter to argue for both Advair and Serevent to be recalled.

The pharmaceutical companies cite the falling statistics of US asthma death rates as evidence of their drugs’ safety, but the SMART study and other hearings have led the FDA to make the warnings more rigid and retest LABAs this year. “Currently, warning labels say LABAs should only be used when inhaled corticosteroids don’t control asthma, and for the shortest time possible and should not be used without corticosteroids or as a rescue medication.” The pharmaceutical companies object to retesting or limiting the use of the drugs.

After the death of patient Cody Miller, drug companies added a warning for the drug Singulair. Miller committed suicide seventeen days after taking Singular on doctor’s recommendation for hayfever. Now the labels warn against neuropsychiatric side effects, and Fox TV reported a correlation between Singulair use and Tourette Syndrome, ADHD, and other conditions.

Since the introduction of both LABA and Singulair there has been much controversy with safety and effectiveness of asthma drugs overall.  The FDA continues to report fatal heart rhythm abnormalities with other asthma drugs including Xolair. “A study in May says Xolair can provide ‘additional clinical benefit’ for patients who are ‘inadequately controlled’ on inhaled corticosteroids. That’s exactly what was said about LABAs.” In the end it is very important to provide patents with information that is correct so they can trust their physicians to give them all the information they need to keep them safe and healthy.


Sources: “Some Asthma Drugs Kill More People Than Asthma: Why is Big Pharma Allowed to Hawky Deadly Pills?” Martha Rosenberg, Alternet. November 3, 2011 http://www.alternet.org/health/152962/some_asthma_drugs_kill_more_people_than_asthma%3A_why_is_big_pharma_allowed_to_hawk_deadly_pills?page=entire

“Trouble Breathing” Robert Langreth, Forbes.com. April 2006 http://www.forbes.com/2006/04/05/cz_rl_advair_magp80.html

“New York Couple Blames Son’s Suicide on Allergy Drug” Anonymous, NBC. February 2008


Student Researcher: Mallory Buth, Elaine Wiley

Faculty Instructor: Kevin Howley, Ph. D.

Evaluator: Pascal Lafontant, Ph. D. Biology

DePauw University