The only sensible prescription for safe pharmacies

It may be convenient for individuals but buying prescription-only medicines over the counter carries with it serious dangers.

Despite the potential dangers of taking medicines without medical supervision, many patients do – and many Abu Dhabi pharmacies make it easy for them. As The National reported yesterday, a new study found that the practice is widespread. All of the 73 pharmacies questioned across the emirate admitted selling prescription medication over the counter and the majority of patients said they regularly bought medicine without a prescription.

This is dangerous, both for the health of patients and of the community generally. Prescription-only drugs can have serious side effects if taken without instruction. Antibiotics, for example, can cause everything from mild allergic reactions to severe shock that requires immediate medical attention. Excessive and incorrect use of antibiotics also hastens the evolution of drug-resistant strains.

Pharmacies clearly think they can get away with breaking the rules because everyone else is doing so: as the survey found, pharmacies felt that if they didn’t satisfy customers then the nearest rival pharmacy would. This plays a big role in encouraging the activity.

There is also the danger of harmful drugs falling into the hands of children. In the survey, about 10 per cent of patients who admitted buying prescription medicine without a prescription were under the age of 15. These children could easily stumble into drug abuse. There is a further danger that people might purchase the same drugs from different pharmacies and overmedicate.

Several steps need to be taken.

The authorities should launch a campaign to articulate to pharmacies what the punishments are for illegally selling such drugs over the counter. In addition, they should increase spot inspections on pharmacies across the UAE to make sure they follow the rules.

A regular review should also be conducted on medicines to classify prescription drugs and determine which ones are less harmful and therefore don’t require a prescription.

Pharmacies play an important role as the gatekeepers for medical practitioners and often offer important health advice, but they should not abuse their position. If they do, public health could be at stake.

Published: May 14, 2014 04:00 AM