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CoverControversial Issues
Not for Pharmacists, But for the Public: the Expansion of OTC Drugs Distributed in Convenience Stores Should Not be Allowed.
Song Na-hyun  |  kikina2@cau.ac.kr
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승인 2018.10.04  17:44:56
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            On August 8th, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced a plan to expand the number of OTC drugs from four existing effective types (Antipyretics, cold medicines, digestive medicine, and pain relief patch) to six effective types that added anti-diarrheals and antacids. At the meeting, civic groups and the Korean Pharmaceutical Association had a heated debate over whether to expand OTC drugs at convenience stores. In particular, civic groups have shown criticism of the pharmacist community, saying that opposing the expansion of OTC drugs distributed in convenience stores displays a selfish attitude in which they value their own rights over the public interest. However, it is necessary to approach this issue very carefully, as the expansion of the OTC drugs is directly related to the health of the people. It is not only the pharmacist's interest protection but also the public's action to oppose the expansion of OTC drugs in convenience stores.

 
           First of all, accessibility resulting from expansion of OTC drugs distributed in convenience stores does not guarantee the effectiveness of disease treatment. When you have a mild illness, you often go to a pharmacy before a hospital. When you ask for a drug at the pharmacy, most pharmacists ask for your symptoms. In this way, pharmacists can offer effective treatments of consumers' symptoms based on their expertise. They can prescribe effective medicines that are suitable to treat their symptoms or recommend the consumers to get hospital treatment if their symptoms are serious. However, convenience stores are different from pharmacies. The proponents argue that if people have a mild illness, they will be able to treat it faster as they have more access to medicines. However, because convenience stores sell OTC drugs to the public without proper understanding of their condition, simply purchasing drugs does not guarantee efficiency of treatment. Furthermore, the National Safety and Drug Administration ensures OTC drug sellers receive 4 hours of mandatory education. However, this is just for instructing a guideline for precautions when selling the OTC drug at convenience stores. In other words, their education cannot replace the expertise the pharmacists have.
           In addition, OTC drugs distributed in convenience stores are not guaranteed to be safe, either. If you open the package of Tylenol, which is widely used for colds and is also sold in convenience stores, you will find instructions about the product and warnings about side effects. This suggests that even though medicines are proven to be reliable, all medicines are artificially effective in the human body and always have potential side effects. In this point of view, it is desirable to purchase medicines after consulting with experts, even for the sake of people's rights. Moreover, is necessary to compare the U.S. and France, which have different medicine systems from each other. In the U.S., people could purchase OTC drugs in a number of different ways due to the limited coverage of national health insurance. In the case of France, the government has designated that all medicines be purchased at pharmacies. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the U.S. and National Security Agency of Medicament and Health Products (ANSM) of France, the world's most popular medicine, Tylenol, is reported to cause more than 100 casualties each year in the United States. In contrast, there are only about six reports of casualties from the side effects of Tylenol in France each year. It shows us a significant difference from the U.S. As these figures show, many safety-guaranteed medicines also suffer from side effects every year. The only way to minimize this damage is to purchase medicines through medical experts.
           As mentioned above, the operation of late-night pharmacies is an effective solution, considering both the accessibility to OTC drugs and the effectiveness of disease treatments. First, the number of patients increases through the operation of late-night pharmacies. Of course, there is no denying that the expansion of OTC drugs at convenience stores has made them more accessible to many people. But those who benefit from the expansion of OTC drugs at convenience stores are limited to those who live in urban areas. Outside urban areas where there are still more supermarkets than convenience stores, residents are still unable to benefit from the expansion of OTC drugs distributed in convenience stores, since the government regulates the sale of OTC drugs in supermarkets. In this point of view, late-night pharmacies operated by the government will give a positive effect to society in that they also guarantee access to OTC drugs to people who were in the shadow of the existing OTC drugs system. Finally, we need to look at the purpose of operating public late-night pharmacies. Public late-night pharmacies aim to ensure that the public can purchase medicine that is suitable for their symptoms even at night with professional help. There is only one purpose in operating public late-night pharmacies: safety. The nation should put the safety of its people first. In this regard, it is not appropriate that public late-night pharmacies should not be run, on the grounds of inefficiency. What should be most important in national policy is not economic efficiency but the public benefits. It would be desirable for the policy to protect the health of the people, despite economic inefficiency.
 
The reason the Korean Pharmaceutical Association opposes the expansion of OTC drugs at convenience stores is not simply to protect their interests. It is to free themselves from their own interests and protect the health of the people. The expansion of OTC drugs distributed in convenience stores has the problems of effectiveness in treating diseases, and safety of medicines. Considering these aspects comprehensively, late-night pharmacies need to be operated at the national level. Especially with this issue of healthcare that is directly linked to the lives of consumers, safety needs to take precedence over accessibility. Furthermore, in situations where there are a number of people who do not benefit from the system, policy supplementations should be made first, rather than expanding the types of OTC drugs available at convenience stores.
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