Recently in Korea, the controversy about whether over-the-counter (OTC) drugs distributed in convenience stores should be increased or not is ongoing. In the case of Korea, medicines are divided into two types: prescription drugs, which require a prescription from doctors, and non-prescription drugs, which can be bought without visiting doctors. These non-prescription drugs are also called OTC drugs. After the separation of prescribing and dispensing drugs in the year 2000, all kinds of drugs were only allowed to be sold in pharmacies. However, in November 2012, a few kinds of OTC drugs started to be sold in convenience stores in order to allow people easy access to them. This led to the change in pharmacy law, and one of the changes is the meaning of safety emergency medicine. The newly defined safety emergency medicine is a categorization of drugs which the minister of health and welfare designated regarding the ingredients and side effects of the drugs, and comprises of 20 kinds. Until now, there have been 13 kinds of OTC drugs that could be sold in convenience stores in Korea. In January 2017, the Ministry of Health and welfare announced their plan to extend the kinds of OTC drugs sold in stores from 13 to 20. While the Pharmaceutical Association is opposing the Ministry of Health's plan by saying that side-effects will increase due to more drugs being taken,most consumers strongly agree with their easier approach to the medicines.
Increasing the Kinds of OTC drugs Sold in Convenience Stores Is Urgent
If you got a stomachache in the middle of the night, when everyone around you was sleeping, what would you do? If the situation is serious, you must rush to the emergency room, but if it is not that serious, you would probably want to take medicine and wait for the effects to appear. However, you will not be able to find drugstores opened in the middle of the night. Then, the only solution is convenience stores. Recently, there have been 13 kinds of OTC drugs sold in stores and many consumers buy those. The ministry of health and welfare announced that they are planning to extend the kinds of drugs sold to 20, and many people approve of their plan. The kinds of medicines sold in convenience stores must be extended for consumers’ easier approach to the medicines in an emergent situation.
Firstly, consumers’ demand should be satisfied by extending their access to drugs. An emergency might happen to anyone at any time. Patients within great pain must go to the hospital, but if the pain is not that serious, people normally judge their disease and choose what medicine to take. However, late at night or after midnight, since pharmacies are closed, they have to visit convenience stores which are open 24 hours a day. According to statistics shown in ‘2015 Wanjae Medicine Circulation Information’, the sales of medicines in convenience stores dramatically increased from 15.4 billion won in 2013 to 23.9 billion won in 2015. Also, according to the statistic, OTC drugs sales at weekends surpassed more than one third of the total sales, and sales from 8 in the evening to 12 midnight recorded the highest amount at 36 percent. These results show that customers these days purchase OTC drugs at times and dates when pharmacies are closed. Currently, convenience stores sell a total of 13 medicines, of four effective groups: heating agents, cold medicines, digestive medicine, and anti-inflammatory skin patches. However, they are too limited to satisfy all patients. Since the effects of the medicine overlap each other, an expansion is necessary to satisfy consumers' needs.
On top of that, adverse drug reactions are not a problem that occurs just because drugs are sold at convenience stores. Given the way pharmacies are currently operating, non-prescription medicines are available as requested by pharmacists. This is not much different from the way people buy them in convenience stores. After all, the place of sale is not a fundamental problem. Concerns over drug misuse are currently being enforced under pharmacology law, which prohibits the sale of more than one drug to one person to prevent misuse of drugs. Of course, there may be convenience stores that break it and sell two or more to people, but this is also a matter of sufficient legal action. In addition, in order to sell medicines at convenience stores, employers and employees must receive training on quality control and safety issues from the Korean Pharmaceutical Association. If the education and crackdown on sales of commercial medicine are strengthened in this way, the expansion of sales of commercial medicine at convenience stores would not be a big problem.
Third, there are many problems with the "extension of late-night pharmacies" that critics claim could be a replacement for the expansion of kinds of OTC drugs sold in convenience stores. If night pharmacies are popularly implemented, access to and misuse of medicines by consumers can be solved at the same time. But so far, the public health agency has been having a hard time operating. If we operate late-night pharmacies considering consumer’s accessibility, many pharmacies will suffer from labor costs. The government's support is also limited, and there are many proposals that must be approved to make this run without problems. Many pharmacies have introduced night opening systems, but there is a recurring cycle which ends with their failure. Currently, there are about 60 running late-night pharmacies in the nation, but only two are operating after midnight in Seoul, according to the Huilkim Pharmacy page. The drug industry claims that the night opening system is not functioning well, so consumers think the only solution is selling more OTC drugs in convenience stores.
Currently, pharmacists are strongly opposed to the Ministry of Health and Welfare's announcement. However, expanding sales of commercial OTC drugs at convenience stores is essential given that consumers’ accessibility is a priority. Moreover, the cause of misuse of medicines is not the problem of the seller, and there is a big problem with the operations of the night drugstore drug industry claims. If the misuse of drugs by patients is a concern, why not try to implement a more secure way of selling drugs rather than unconditionally stopping convenience stores from selling OTC drugs?
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