Ministry lifts restrictions on prescription, over-the-counter drugs

A masked Tanel Kiik, social affairs minister.
A masked Tanel Kiik, social affairs minister. Source: ERR

Sales of prescription and over-the-counter drugs are now back to normal after the social affairs ministry, on the proposal of the State Agency of Medicines (Raviamet) lifted restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic in March and April.

Prescription drugs, including repeat prescriptions, as well as over-the-counter medicines, will no longer be subject to restrictions, with the exception of paracetamol, which is still confined to a single purchase of 30 tablets per person, per purchase.

Over-the-counter drugs had been rationed to a maximum of two packs per person during the pandemic, as uncertainty and interruptions in supply put pressure on stocks.

Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) said Friday that the situation had now improved and the restrictions could now be lifted.

"Stocks of medicines in both wholesale and pharmacies have improved. This provides us with reassurance that upon the lifting of restrictions on prescribing and dispensing medicines, medicines will be available on the spot in Estonia, and available to the public, even in the event of a possible momentary increase in consumption," Kiik said, according to a social affairs ministry press release.

"The State Agency of Medicines (Raviamet), market license issuers and wholesalers will continue to monitor the situation on the pharmaceutical market, to ensure that there is enough medicine for everyone who needs it," Kiik went on.

By a directive issued by the social affairs minister, quantities of prescribed and over-the-counter medicines were first temporarily rationed on March 19, to preserve availability.

A healthcare professional could under those rules prescribe medicines for chronic diseases for a period up to two months; in the case of a repeat prescription, a pharmacy could dispense the medicine only on one prescription that the consumer may hold, for up to two months. As noted, over-the-counter sales were limited to two packs per person, per purchase.

On April 9, this was supplemented with the restriction of paracetamol sales to 30 tablets per purchase, a limit which remains in place.

Throughout the intervening time, the State Agency of Medicines has been constantly monitoring the availability of medicines, and has communicated with suppliers both on a domestic and EU level, the ministry says.

The agency's director, Kristin Raudsepp, said: "With what we know today, we no longer see the need for restrictions; all market participants are working hard to make medicines available, and although the recurrence of pan-European problems cannot completely rule out worsening availability problems in Estonia, additional restrictions are no longer justified."

Raudsepp added that the supply situation of paracetamol was behind the continued restrictions there.

"Although inventories have improved significantly in wholesale warehouses, we are not in a hurry to ease the restriction on paracetamol dispensing, as the global situation has not stabilized, and access to the active ingredient for pharmaceuticals and traditional supplies remains uncertain."  

The social affairs ministry has also entered into agreements with seven pharmaceutical wholesalers to ensure the availability of a total of 800 different active substances and covering the most important and most commonly-used medicines to patients, the ministry says.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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