Primatene Mist to make a comeback?

(CBS News) For millions of asthma sufferers, a medical inhaler is one of the most effective ways to control symptoms. For almost half a century, America's most popular choice was Primatene Mist.

Congress is now ready to decide if it should be sold again.

Primatene Mist was appealing to many asthma sufferers because it didn't require a prescription. But Wednesday's move to allow the inhaler to return to store shelves has also been met with opposition from the medical community, which says Primatene Mist isn't the best way to treat asthma.

Later Wednesday, members of the House of Representatives are expected to vote on whether to give Primatene Mist back to consumers.

At the start of 2012, the popular over-the-counter inhaler was pulled from drugstore shelves for containing chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which are considered one of the primary causes for the depletion of the ozone layer.

Under the terms of a 1997 treaty, the United States pledged to phase out all CFCs by 2030. But the manufacturer, Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, was unable to create an environmentally friendly version of Primatene Mist before a deadline imposed by the Food and Drug Administration.

That has left asthma sufferers -- many from low-income homes -- without an over-the-counter option to treat their symptoms.

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said, "The tiny amount of CFCs that are disbursed in treatment of an asthma attack is absolutely minuscule, and it really makes no sense to prevent asthma patients from having that therapy available."

Now, Amphastar is hoping the vote will allow its excess stock of Primatene Mist to return to stores across the nation. The company says it will donate the profits to charity.

The possible return of Primatene Mist has also drawn opposition from the medical community. In a letter, the president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology wrote, "The use of inhaled epinephrine can pose a significant health risk because of its numerous adverse cardiopulmonary effects."

Dr. Daniel Ein, director of the Allergy, George Washington University, said "It's very short-acting, it has lots of side effects. Rather than going backwards to something that really isn't good, we should go forward and try to encourage people to get the best possible care that they can."

There are reportedly up to a million Primatene Mist inhalers sitting in a California warehouse that the manufacturer is hoping to distribute if the bill passes. The irony is that the expiration date on those products is August 2013, so by the time the inhalers make it back to consumers, they can only be used for a few months.

The bill is controversial because it allows one company to empty its inventory, basically. Though the company says it plans to donate the money to charity, it would allow the company to keep marketshare between now and the time the FDA finally approves another inhaler.

Watch the video above for Chip Reid's full report.

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