Cost and locality, barriers to proper asthma medication use

A report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare suggests that some asthma medications are not being used in the optimal way by most people.

'Most people who use inhaled corticosteroids, use them intermittently even though it is recommended that these drugs be taken regularly by those who need them,' said Dr Guy Marks, of the Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring.

The study found that short-acting reliever drugs (such as VentolinTM and BricanylTM ) were also used occasionally by most people.

'In this case however, the pattern of occasional use indicates these drugs are being used appropriately since they should not be needed regularly if symptoms are under control,' he said.

Although asthma is as common in remote areas as it is in cities, the report showed that people living in remote areas use asthma medications less than people living in cities.

It also found that people with concession cards, who are able to buy medications at a cheaper rate, used more inhaled corticosteroids than those without a concession card.

'This implies that the full price charged to general patients for inhaled corticosteroids may be a barrier to their regular use,' Dr Marks said.

The report, Patterns of asthma medication use in Australia, is the first to use data from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) database.

While there are some limitations to the information in the PBS data - for example, not all medications used for the treatment of asthma are recorded, and some short-acting reliever drugs, like VentolinTM can be bought without a prescription - the PBS data still provides a valuable source of information about medication use in Australia.

Drug therapy is the cornerstone of treatment for controlling asthma and preventing and relieving attacks. It is important that the medications are used in the appropriate manner and this varies with the type of medication.

The Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring is a collaborating unit of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, based at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney and funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing through the National Asthma Management Program.

9 May 2007

Further information: Dr Guy Marks, ACAM, tel. 0419 251 565

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.