A nighttime headache currently sends every Israeli who accidently runs out of Acamol on a wild chase looking for some 24-hour pharmacy. However it appears that beginning in December, the remedy will arrive much quicker.
The Knesset Labor and Social Affairs Committee has approved a list of 108 active ingredients found in over-the-counter medications that will be sold outside the pharmacies. According to analysts, approval of the list will allow the sale of over 400 medicines.
The market is supposed to open up to competition in December or January, when Israelis will benefit from a 5 percent drop in prices on drugs approved for sale outside of pharmacies, and from their greater availability.
The drugs will be sold in local groceries, many of which are open around the clock, and in a number of convenience stores at gas stations, which are also open in the wee hours of the night. A mother who discovers that she does not have any Acamoli for a child with sudden high fever will need only run to the neighborhood market to quickly bring home the medication.
Competition and the entry into the market of the retail food chains as well as other points of sale will obligate the pharmaceutical chains and private pharmacies to offer more attractive prices.
There are those in the retail market who claim that a decrease in prices will reach 30 percent.
But opponents of the change claim that it will cause medicinal consumption in Israel to rise, a phenomenon that will hardly contribute to public health.
Indeed, opening the field to competition necessitates an informational campaign that will help consumers acquire over-the-counter drugs in an educated fashion without consulting a pharmacist. The change in the market will also require supervision by the Ministry of Health, to insure that standards are fully maintained and that the public will not be exposed to drugs that have expired or have been damaged by improper storage.
Many times before it seemed as if reform in over-the-counter drugs had reached its final stages. There is no doubt that the approval of both the list of medicines, as well as the additional regulations - listing businesses that will be licensed to sell over-the-counter drugs, the manner of sale, and its limitations - marks significant progress. But the approval of the regulations does not insure implementation of the reform. Without close watch by the Ministry of Health, the reform will not be able to get off the ground.
The ministry is waiting for the treasury to approve the requisite budget. In addition, during all the years of debate, interest groups such as pharmacists, gas stations, and pharmacy chains have operated strong lobbies.
It is safe to assume that the pressures will not let up until the reform kicks into action.
One can only hope that this time the reform will be completely approved, and the seven-month countdown until the appearance of the over-the-counter drugs on the shelves will begin. If it works out, Israelis will be able to enjoy higher accessibility and lower prices.
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