Our aim was to analyse anti-asthmatic drug utilisation in primary health care in a Northern Italian region in the light of guidelines for asthma treatment.
Methods: We collected all prescriptions for anti-asthmatic agents reimbursed in 1998 in six local health authorities (overall population: 1,909,192 inhabitants) of Emilia Romagna (Northern Italy). The asthmatic cohort was defined as the population of subjects aged 20-44 years receiving at least one prescription of an anti-asthmatic agent devoid of indications for transient respiratory diseases. In order to include routine users, the asthmatic cohort was restricted to those subjects with at least one prescription in the first quarter of 1998. Anti-asthmatic agents were classified according to their therapeutic role as follows: maintenance therapy for mild-moderate asthma (Mm); maintenance therapy for severe asthma (Ms); quick relief for mild attack (Qm) and quick relief for severe attack (Qs).
Results: The asthmatic cohort included 11,518 subjects; of these, 47% received only one prescription in 1998. The most frequent regimens were Mm+Qm (25%) and Qm alone (23%). Some regimens appeared not to be in accordance with international recommendations. The main reasons were lack of drugs for quick relief (36%), use of long-term beta(2)-adrenoceptor agonists (Ms drugs) without quick-relief or anti-inflammatory agents (10% of the cohort and 56% of the recipients of Ms drugs) and presence of fixed-dose combinations (27%). In 76% of the patients treated with Mm drugs (mainly inhaled steroids), the total amount of drugs prescribed over the 1-year period covered less than 150 days.
Conclusions: The use of anti-asthmatic drugs in general practice in Italy does not seem to comply with the international recommendations especially with regard to the use of quick-relief agents. Active interventions to implement guidelines and monitor the choice of drug regimens are warranted.