Health Ministry officials say that a 2005 reform allowing the sale of non-prescription outside of pharmacies has had almost no effect on consumer habits.
"Most of Israel's public continues to purchase over-the-counter drugs from pharmacists at pharmacies. In all probability, more time will be needed to change the public's consumer habits regarding drugs," the ministry's researchers said in an article published this month by the journal Harefuah.
According to the study, which is based on public opinion surveys, 72% of adult Israelis purchase over-the-counter medicine; however, two years after the start of the reform, only 3.1% of respondents say that they do so at authorized sales points outside of pharmacies, and only 21% of the respondents purchase drugs at pharmacy counters not supervised by pharmacists.
In 2007, the reform led to a slight drop in the purchase of non-prescription drugs at pharmacies operated by health maintenance organizations, as well as a slight rise in the purchase of such drugs at stores belonging to private pharmacy chains.
The purchase of non-prescription medicine at private pharmacies has not been affected by the reform.
However, 75% of non-prescription drugs were still purchased at pharmacies.
The study is based two surveys of Israelis 21 and older, one undertaken with 1,324 respondents at the time the reform was authorized, and the second undertaken two years later with 2,053 respondents.
The types of non-prescription drugs popular with Israeli consumers have not been affected by the reform.
The most widely purchased over-the-counter medicine is for fever and aches (43% ), followed by drugs for cold symptoms (31% ).
Before and after the reform, roughly the same number of respondents purchased over-the-counter drugs with a frequency of 3-5 times a year - 36% did so before the reform, and 40% did so after it.
The reform also didn't change how much people pay for drugs: 40% of respondents spend between NIS 21 to NIS 50 on such drugs, and 20% pay between NIS 51 and NIS 100.
When they were asked to explain why they purchase over-the-counter drugs exclusively from pharmacists, 25% of respondents reported that they only trust pharmacists, and 20% said that they are afraid to purchase medicine without consulting a pharmacist, and 15% reported that it was a choice of convenience.
Up to now, the Health Ministry has authorized 156 drugs for over-the-counter sale. These include drugs for fever and aches, skin ailments, indigestion, allergies, sleep problems, blood thinners and help quitting smoking.
In Israel, over 2.7 million non-prescription drugs are sold a month, and 320 venues are authorized to sell drugs without the supervision of a pharmacist; these include supermarkets and gas stations.
Many of these authorized sales venues are not in operation, particularly at stories belonging to the large food chains.
According to Nitzan Lavi, deputy CEO of Superpharm, which has been authorized by the reform to sell non-prescription drugs at counters where licensed pharmacists do not work, "the Health Ministry's, and the Finance Ministry's, aim of allowing entry to a new group of retailers to the sphere of over-the-counter drugs has not been met, because today's Israeli consumer is well-informed; and even though he can save time by purchasing drugs in new ways, he still prefers relying on the wisdom and experience of a pharmacist."
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