Behind the Counter

by Russ Roberts on February 8, 2005

in FDA

From USA Today:

Pharmacists, frustrated with being viewed as mere pill-pushers, are
clamoring to become more involved in managing their customers’ health
care. Some professional groups have been pushing for a new category of
non-prescription drugs, dubbed "behind-the-counter," that would require
customers to talk to a pharmacist before buying them. The United
Kingdom and Canada are among a number of other countries that have such
a setup.

Pretty radical, huh?  By talking to the pharmacist (who presumably could say no), you might have a chance of getting to buy some of those magic pills behind the counter.  My rewrite of the first sentence in the quote:

Customers, frustrated with being viewed as mere children, are clamoring to become involved in managing their own health care.

I suppose I should be grateful for small favors.  Unfortunately, the possibility of ‘behind the counter’ doesn’t necessarily mean an expansion of consumer choice.  From the same USA Today article:

A growing number of states are moving non-prescription cold remedies
such as Sudafed from store shelves to behind the counter.
Pseudoephedrine, their active ingredient, can be ground up to make
crystal methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant. Placing such drugs
behind the counter enables pharmacists to limit the amount sold and
keep track of buyers.

The article also chronicles the start of the unfortunate trend I worried about recently—the Vioxx affair will make the FDA more cautious, decreasing returns to innovation:

Facing generic competition when prescription
drugs go off patent, drug companies are looking to switch the drugs to
OTC for three more years of exclusivity. If an FDA advisory panel’s
vote last month was any indication, though, drugmakers might face
resistance when trying to switch drugs for chronic conditions that have
no symptoms, such as high cholesterol.

The panel voted 20-3 against Merck’s plan to
switch Mevacor, a prescription cholesterol-lowering statin drug, to
OTC. But several members said they could see selling the drug without a
prescription from behind the counter.

Most committee members weren’t convinced that
consumers could correctly decide on their own whether they needed
medication to lower their cholesterol. After all, non-prescription
drugs historically have been used to treat only short-lived ailments,
such as a headache.

That’s right.  We can’t be trusted.  Ah, but pharmacists might know best…

Comments

Add a Comment    Share Share    Print    Email

Previous post:

Next post: