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Korea to allow supermarket sales of 44 OTC drugs

The health ministry said Wednesday that it will allow 44 over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceutical products to be sold not only at licensed drug stores, but also at supermarkets, convenience stores and any other retail outlet.

The measure is expected to go into effect as early as August, considering the time needed for administrative procedures to revise related regulations and for preparations by pharmaceutical companies, the ministry said.

The 44 OTC drugs that will go on supermarket shelves break down into 12 energy drinks, including the popular "Bacchus," four ointments and creams, 15 digestive drinks, 11 types of intestinal pills and two medicated patches, according to the ministry.

So far, only licensed pharmacists have been allowed to sell these products.

The ministry said it will seek to expand supermarket sales of more OTC drugs.

Consumer groups have long called for allowing safety-proven OTC drugs to be sold at non-pharmacy stories, citing the difficulty of getting medicines at night and on weekends or holidays when most pharmacies are closed. More than 70 percent of the public support supermarket sales of OTC drugs, according to surveys.

But pharmacists have strongly objected to the idea, apparently out of concern that they could lose a major source of income. They have claimed that supermarket sales of medicines could lead to drug misuse and abuse. (Yonhap News)