Putting public health first

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Putting public health first

The move to allow grocery and convenience stores to sell nonprescription drugs has hit a bottleneck due to strong opposition from pharmacists of the Korean Pharmaceutical Association, an industry lobbying group. The association’s executive arm decided to negotiate with the Ministry of Health and Welfare on a proposal to restrict sales of over-the-counter drugs at convenience stores at night.

But the extraordinary session of the industry association failed to generate a vote as the decision by some members to boycott caused a low turnout. As a result, it remains unclear if the National Assembly can pass the revised pharmaceutical law to allow sales of nonprescription medicine outside registered drugstores by next month.

A majority of the population, or 83 percent, supported the plan to allow over-the-counter sales of simple drugs, such as those used to treat fevers, colds and indigestion, as well as painkillers. The pharmaceutical association also agreed with the plan, at least in part, in consideration of strong popular support.

Many people have been inconvenienced by running out of emergency drugs at home at times when drugstores are closed. And to meet the rising consumer demand, the government has finally come up with the idea of selling restricted drug items at convenience stores around the clock.

But pharmacists have opposed allowing nonprofessionals to sell medicines over the counter, citing the risk of drug abuse or misuse - risks that experts claim could be avoided if they are only permitted to sell smaller quantities of drugs that can be safely consumed by all.

Some industry figures have proposed increasing the share of public health care facilities at nighttime or on holidays in an effort to end the dispute.

But it is ridiculous to have people head to hospital emergency rooms just to solve, for example, an indigestion problem that could be treated with a couple of medicine drops.

It is also uneconomical to spend tax funds to increase the number of public health facilities in order to treat patients who cannot find drugstores late at night. Such logic could only make pharmacists appear as part of a selfish industry group that places its own interests before those of consumers.

The problem could easily be resolved if pharmacists stand on the side of consumers and try to prioritize public health and convenience.

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