Supermarkets to sell OTC drugs
By Yi Whan-woo
Twenty drug types including analgesics, cold medicine and digestive tablets will be sold over-the-counter (OTC) at supermarkets and convenience stores from November, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Thursday.
A ministry official said the move follows the National Assembly passing a bill the previous day permitting the sale of nonprescription drugs at retail outlets other than pharmacies.
Up to 67 different products of the OTC drug types will be available at neighborhood stores.
The ministry plans to form a committee of doctors, pharmacists, civic group members and consumers this month to decide on the 67 to be sold at retail outlets.
“The committee will select specific products among analgesics, cold remedies, digestive tablets and other OTC drugs that do not require specific directions from pharmacists,” the official said. .
The approval of the bill came after months of delay at the Assembly as representatives backed pharmacists who opposed relinquishing their monopoly on the sale of both prescription and OTC medicine.
However, the Korean Pharmaceutical Association (KPA) accepted the government’s push for the sales at supermarkets early this year as most Koreans are in favor of the move.
“We have decided not to protest drug sales at convenience stores, putting the consumers’ convenience first in drug purchases during holidays and at night,” a KPA official said.
The pharmacists first argued that looser rules could cause serious drug abuse. The bill was presented to the Assembly in September 2011 but failed to clear the Health and Welfare Committee because of hectic lobbying by pharmacists.
The KPA then recognized that 83 percent of the people supported the bill designed to allow consumers to easily buy simple medicines at retail stores.
Most of the association members already knew the bill would eventually be passed and did not want to be seen as a selfish group, one pharmacist said.
Civic groups advocating consumer rights called on the government and the KPA to work together closely to help the public gain easier access to basic OTC drugs in accordance with the legislation.
“Policymakers and pharmacists should put top priority on consumers’ convenience when they decide which medicine should be sold at stores other than pharmacies,” a civic group member said.