In this article we consider the relationship between asthma mortality rates, obtained from the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), and the doses of all antiasthmatic drugs except systemic steroids sold in Italy in the years 1974-1988. The total asthma mortality rate showed three different trends: it decreased slowly until 1978 (period A); increased 10-fold from 1979 to 1985, rising from 0.30 to 4.17/100,000 (period B); and remained stable until 1988 (period C). More than half of the deaths in 1988 occurred in people 75 years of age or more. Men died more in the older age groups, while the mortality of women prevailed in the 35- to 54-year age group. In the 5- to 34-year age group the rate rose from 0.01 in 1978 to 0.21 /100,000 in 1986. Coding changes due to the 9th revision of the International Classification of Disease, adopted in Italy in 1979, probably increased the number of deaths being attributed to asthma in case of contemporary mention of bronchitis, a common diagnosis in older men, which showed the greatest increase in mortality. Increased prevalence and awareness of asthma may also have played a role. Although international comparisons strongly suggest undertreatment of asthma in Italy, the doses of anti-asthma drugs sold in Italy grew from 276 to 1,080 million from 1974 to 1985. During period B xanthine sales rose sevenfold and grew from 6.5 to 23.3% of the total doses, along with a twofold increase in beta 2-agonist and cromolyn sales. Period C was characterized by stable total doses (1155 million in 1988), with increases only in antiinflammatory and preventive drug sales. The increase in asthma deaths in Italy has been striking despite the contemporary rise in sales of all antiasthma drugs, particularly of beta 2-agonist metered aerosols and xanthine tablets. The increase in antiinflammatory and preventive drug sales may have contributed to the stabilization of asthma deaths during period C.