So you’re standing in line at the checkout of your local pharmacy, your shopping basket filled with soap, shampoo, maybe a snack and some aspirin. But you know you forgot one thing — what was it? Oh yes, your diabetes medicine. No worries; it’s sitting right next to the cash register, strategically placed so that people like you remember to replenish their supply.
Far-fetched? Not as much as you might think. According to an article published last week in the Washington Post, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering allowing certain drugs for diabetes, asthma, and migraines to be sold without a prescription. No outcome is certain at this point, and the scenario described above might never come to pass even if the FDA’s plans proceed; pharmacists might be required to dispense a drug even if no doctor’s prescription is required. But if all goes as planned, the way people receive drugs used to treat some common health conditions could change dramatically.
According to the Post article, the FDA is interested in increasing access to established drugs that have been shown to be easy to administer and relatively low-risk. Since over-the counter drugs require no visit to a doctor and tend to be cheaper than even generic prescription drugs, people with no health insurance or limited coverage could benefit from removing prescription requirements. On several past occasions, the FDA has granted petitions from drugmakers to allow a prescription drug to be sold over-the-counter. Examples from the last decade include omeprazole (brand name Prilosec and others), a drug for gastroesophageal reflux disease; and loratadine (Claritin and others), for allergies. The FDA envisions potential customers filling out questionnaires on electronic kiosks in pharmacies, possibly in connection with pharmacy-based diagnostic tests such as blood pressure readings or HbA1c tests, to find out what drug to purchase and how to take it.
The article notes that in the judgment of the FDA, overbooked doctors would benefit from not having to write routine prescriptions and evaluate certain basic diagnostic tests — gaining time to spend with patients who truly need personal care and expertise. In some cases, according to the FDA, an initial doctor’s prescription might be necessary, but after that all refills could be obtained from a pharmacist. Drugmakers would still have to petition the FDA to change the status of a drug, and the FDA would evaluate them on a case-by-case basis.
What do you think — is allowing some diabetes drugs to be sold over-the-counter a good idea? Do the potential benefits of access to treatment for the millions of people with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes outweigh the possibility that they might not receive adequate medical supervision? Would you rather visit your pharmacy than your doctor for simple diagnostic tests? Would you trust the results of a computer if it, rather than a doctor, were to write you a prescription? Leave a comment below!