Drug machine
A vending machine for non-prescription drugs Photo by Getty
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The pharmaceutical department of the Health Ministry is pushing to change regulations so that medicines that do not require a prescription can be sold in vending machines. A draft proposal to that effect was recently distributed to pharmacists for comments.

The ministry told the pharmacists that the move was prompted by a request from a vending-machine company. The suggested changes would allow medicines to be sold only in machines operated by credit cards, to prevent access by minors. Sales from such machines would also be limited to three packages per buyer.

Vending machines selling medication would maintain a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius and have a display presenting consumer information and the medicine's expiry date.

Medicines being considered for sale in machines would be limited to those already sold outside pharmacies, including painkillers like Nurofen, Acamol, Dexamil and Adex; remedies for sore throats; medications for treating rashes and fungi; heartburn relievers; eye and nose drops; and blood thinners.

Ministry personnel suggesting the changes foresee such machines selling other products as well, but only if the other merchandise is separated clearly from the medicines.

In May 2005, new pharmaceutical regulations were introduced, allowing the sale of certain medicines in places other than pharmacies. The changes stemmed from pressure from entrepreneurs, who wanted to see the Israeli drug market develop similarly to that in Western countries. The model eventually adopted here was the relatively conservative British one, considered to be stricter than the American approach.

Over 2.7 million prescription-free drugs are sold in Israel every year. However, as per local consumption habits, the vast majority are still sold in pharmacies. Only 320 non-drug stores in the country are allowed to sell medicines today, including supermarkets and convenience stores at gas stations. Existing regulations stipulate that medicines must be sold in roofed places out of direct sunlight and protected from weather hazards.

The ministry is yet to decide whether to limit the locations where the proposed vending machines are placed, or to allow them to be installed in malls, on streets, near schools, at entrances to public buildings or in other areas.

For now, "The draft proposal was sent to everyone concerned, and the final version will determine how the machines will be monitored," the Health Ministry said in a statement. "All other issues, including the location of the vending machines, will be discussed after receiving the comments on the draft."

Discussions in the ministry are expected to resume in August, once the pharmacists have responded.