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Over-the-counter drugs not to be sold in supermarkets any time soon in Estonia

Südameapteek pharmacy.
Südameapteek pharmacy. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Even though some pharmacies in Estonia have fast checkout where products can be bought without consulting a pharmacist first, neither drugstores, the State Agency of Medicines nor the Ministry of Social Affairs believe painkillers or fever reducers should be sold in grocery stores or gas stations.

The discussion of whether over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, antipyretics and other drugs could be sold at grocery stores or gas stations keeps resurfacing in Estonia, while it usually succumbs to the argument that drug sales should be accompanied by professional advice.

However, Südameapteek pharmacies have been offering fast checkout for a while now, where people can buy drugs without consulting pharmacists, just as one buys milk at the supermarket.

"Fast checkout is there so people who do not need counseling could get their plasters, bandages, vitamins, food supplements and creams quickly," said Külli Teder, manager of the Tõnismäe Südameapteek.

She said that pharmacies selling painkillers or nasal spray without talking to the customer first would be an exception rather than the rule but admitted that there have been such cases.

Fast checkout stations are manned by pharmacology students, not practicing pharmacists. But why not allow the sale of OTC medicines in grocery stores and gas stations then? Those who need advice could still go to a pharmacy instead.

"The person working at the fast checkout station can still get an idea of whether the customer needs advice and point them in the direction of a pharmacist," Teder said. "These sales should not move to grocery stores. There is still a measure of control in a pharmacy."

She gave the example of Sweden where cases of poisoning spiked after OTC drugs started to be sold at the shops. The practice was ended soon after.

Liis Prii, head of the State Agency of Medicines' supervision department, said that people need to have access to pharmaceutical advice when buying medicinal products.

Estonia's Health Minister Riina Sikkut (SDE) also said that the Ministry of Social Affairs has no plans to divert a lot of pharmacies' turnover to supermarkets or gas stations.

It also raises the question of what would happen to the markup on prescription drugs if people bought a lot of OTC drugs from their corner shop or when refueling their vehicles instead of from pharmacies, she suggested.

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Editor: Barbara Oja, Marcus Turovski

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