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Behind The Counter Rx

October 15, 2007, 3:52 PM by Jaine Andrews

Behind The Counter Rx
You probably know there are only two categories of drugs at your local pharmacy: prescription drugs and non-prescription drugs.  But the Food and Drug Administration is looking to add a third category to the medication mix. 

If you've has a cold lately or are an allergy sufferer, like I am, the idea of having to get your medication from behind the counter is nothing new. We've had to ask for more than a year now for a pharmacist to hand over any medication containing the meth-making ingredient pseudoephedrine. But the new proposal by the FDA could expand that idea. 

Bill Ladwig, vice president of Pharmaceutical Services at Lewis Drug says, " The only one is pseudoephedrine and it's not really a true fit. That was mandated because of safety concerns." 

But it may be convenience and cost-cutting that is fueling talk at the Food and Drug Administration about whether more drugs should be available without a prescription, but only after asking a pharmacist for them. Some of the medications being talked about include antihistamines, cholesterol-lowering medications or birth control pills now only available with a prescription. 

"There's the potential for quite a few drugs out there who would meet that criteria about awareness and educating the public," Ladwig said. 

The FDA is seeking public input on the idea through next month. It's an idea some say who's time has come.
Eleven countries including Canada and Britain already have some form of behind the counter sales. Here in the US, one pharmacist's group favors the move, but a consumer group opposes it. 

"I think it's a very good thing if it's handled the right way. It has to be one of those things that there needs to be safety checks," Ladwig said. 

The closest test here in South Dakota has involved not only certain cold and allergy medications, but also nationally, the "morning-after" pill, Plan B. All of which are available without a prescription but not without asking for them. 

"Some very effective, powerful medications have gone over-the-counter and there could be more out there," Ladwig said. 

FDA officials admit that drugstores could face some logistical issues in such a switch, such as how to stock behind-the-counter drugs. There are also concerns about whether behind-the-counter sales would increase pharmacists' workloads enough to raise reimbursement issues.

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