News & Event

[2011. 10] Report on drug sales outside pharmacies in Korea

Date2011.11.07 View351

Report on drug sales outside pharmacies in Korea


Background and Progress


In Korea, sales of "drugs" from places other than "pharmacies" are very limited. Prescription drugs are legally prohibited to be dispensed by "technicians". Non-prescription drugs, excluding a few vitamins, which are orally taken, are mostly only allowed to sell in "pharmacies".


This shows that the accessibility of pharmacy is higher than in any other country in the world (approximately 2300 persons per pharmacy), and is due to the historical background of pharmacists being responsible for a part of primary medical care.

After 1990, the economy of Korea grew and many foreign policy cases were spread. This is when the discussion of drug sales outside pharmacies began. (e.g.: Tylenol, digestives, etc)


However, before the Separation of prescribing and dispensing drugs, started in 2000, more than 20 thousand pharmacies were open during night shifts. But because the demand of the public was not strong, the sales of drugs outside pharmacies were held back by the political power of the pharmaceutical association and the will of the health policy authorities that put emphasis on safety.


After 2000, when the Separation of prescribing and dispensing drugs Act has been implemented, more than half of the pharmacies put forward their closing time. This caused public opinions on difficulties in purchasing medicines during the night time. Therefore the government started to consider a solution.


Especially as civic groups claim the difficulties in purchasing medicines during the night time and media continuously raise the problem and the current government supports the market economy, the sales of drugs outside pharmacies is becoming a strong government policy plan. Leading to the recent amendment of the pharmaceutical affairs law allows the sales of drugs in places other than pharmacies.



Position of the Korean Pharmaceutical Association


Currently, the Korean Pharmaceutical Association is opposing the amendment of the pharmaceutical affairs law in two aspects.


1. It is extremely dangerous to sell drugs outside pharmacies where the system that manages the safety of drugs is absent.

If sales of drugs become possible in retail stores with a few inadequate qualifications (bar code system, a few hours of education), it is the same as giving up the fundamental management of drugs that were accomplished through pharmacies till now. In addition, systems such as withdrawing or discarding problem drugs, and responsibilities of adverse events that can be caused from purchasing drugs are inadequate in the amendments that the government is pushing ahead.

Such problems regarding "management of drug safety" as stated above are a reason why the KPA is against this amendment of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.


2. Sales of drugs outside pharmacies will trigger the fall of community pharmacies, and the public's accessibility to pharmacies will become worse.

At present, the income of Korean pharmacies through prescription drugs is 80%, and through non-prescription drugs is about 20%. If the amendment is achieved, it will be possible for items that increase the sales of non-prescription drugs by 70% to be sold in places other than pharmacies. This would lead to predictions of a management crisis of community pharmacies that depend on non-prescription drug sales. 

Even now, pharmacies of the top 30% take 80% of the profits. It would then be difficult for a lot of community pharmacies to be in existence and therefore pharmacy accessibility will worsen. Also, the reduction of pharmacies will naturally influence the social contribution of pharmacist and bring about critical consequences of the pharmacy profession.

For this reason, the pharmaceutical association is strongly opposing the amendment of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.


Effort of the Korean Pharmaceutical Association


The KPA is making various possible efforts to satisfy the two social demands - safe purchase of drugs and convenient purchase of drugs.

In the year 2010, the night shift pharmacy pilot project was operated by the labor force and finances of the KPA. Night shift pharmacies ran from 10 PM to 8 AM in the next morning. However, the demand for drug purchase in the night time was small and the budget and workforce that was needed to operate night shift pharmacies was difficult to handle. Therefore this plan could not be expanded and was terminated.


Furthermore, in 2011, to resolve the inconvenience of purchasing drugs in the night time and during public holidays plans such as opening all pharmacies in the country till 12 once a week and one Sunday every month were suggested to the Ministry of Health and this was accepted by the government. However, due to the media's major demand for supermarket sales permit, and the atmosphere of the current administration that aims to solve the health insurance financial problems, and expansion of drug advertizing markets and stimulation of the industry, the government is rushing the amendment to allow supermarket sales.


The KPA is spreading the motion to hold back the large-scaled amendment, unfolding the publicity of drug safety to the nation, and concentrating on promoting to members of the National Assembly and the press.

Also last August, during the 2 weeks of advance notice of proposed rulemaking, one million citizens against the amendment of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law signature campaign was developed. One million and hundred twenty thousand signatures were collected and were passed on to the Ministry of Health.


Not to mention, not only preparation for the bill to the National Assembly, persuasion of the members of the National Assembly and political parties are continuously being pushed ahead, and an all-member movement against the passing of this amendment during this term is taking place, but also efforts to resolve public inconvenience by expansion of public medical services are made together with spreading the public consensus of night time and public holiday resolutions.