Safety of OTC drugs
At long last, consumers will be able to buy 20 types of nonprescription drugs such as cold medicine over the counter at convenience stores, probably from November.
The over the counter (OTC) drug sale has been made possible as the National Assembly passed a bill allowing the sale of drugs at retail outlets other than pharmacies Wednesday. It took nearly a year for the bill to be approved owing to pharmacists’ life-or-death opposition and politicians’ reluctance to deal with the bill. The bill was presented to the Assembly in September 2011 but failed to clear the Health and Welfare Committee due to pharmacists’ fierce lobbying.
Pharmacists who disliked relinquishing their monopoly on the sale of prescription drugs and OTC medicines argued that looser rules will cause serious drug abuse and safety problems. Lawmakers, lobbied by pharmacists, supported their argument and didn’t act to deliberate the bill.
The bill permits convenience stores that operate around the clock to sell drugs but bar mom-and-pop stores from doing so because they are not open for 24 hours.
Although the OTC drug sale is in the offing, pharmaceutical companies remain lukewarm on expectations that their sales won’t get a boost from the new measure overnight. That’s because the sale of medicines usually doesn’t rise even if sales outlets increase.
First of all, the bill is certain to enhance consumers’ convenience as consumers can buy such emergency drugs as analgesics and digestive tablets at night when babies are ailing with a fever or cough.
The most important thing is how to ensure safety after the OTC drug sales begin. The government allowed only 20 drug types to be sold in consideration of safety concerns. The amount of drugs to be sold would be limited to a one-day intake and small packaging will be obligatory. Children are barred from purchasing drugs at convenience stores.
Yet these are not enough. The government should step up monitoring and supervision in connection with the OTC drug sale. A prompt response system must be established so that problems arising in drug distribution can be tackled immediately.
The government, in cooperation with the Korea Pharmaceutical Association, needs to educate consumers regarding the danger of drug misuse and abuse. More than anything else, consumers should be stricter about drugs that can turn into poison at any time.