The Taiwan Healthcare Reform Foundation yesterday urged the Department of Health to strengthen oversight of community pharmacies to prevent illegal activities.
The foundation conducted a survey that showed 73 percent of community pharmacies sell prescription drugs to consumers without doctors’ prescriptions, while 40 percent of pharmacies could not answer drug-related questions posed to them.
According to the foundation, 15 years after implementation of a policy separating prescription and dispension of medical drugs, there are now 5,053 pharmacies with National Health Insurance (NHI) certification.
However, the foundation said that following a random telephone survey of 70 NHI-certified pharmacies in the five special municipalities, as well as undercover field investigations at more than 20 NHI-certified pharmacies in Taipei and New Taipei City (新北市), it had discovered that many pharmacies dispensed antibiotics, steroids, high potency anti-inflammatory medicines and other prescription drugs without a prescription.
According to foundation chairperson Liu Mei-chun (劉梅君), 73 percent of the surveyed pharmacies said that chronic-disease prescriptions could be dispensed even if the consumer did not bring a National Health Insurance card.
Liu said field investigations revealed that only 20 percent of pharmacies required employees to wear medical uniforms with a pharmacist’s license, and that over-the-counter (OTC) drugs could be bought like beverages in a convenience store, without any consultation or instructions from pharmacists.
When asked whether two of the most popular anti-hypertensives (drugs that lower blood pressure) could be taken at the same time, 41 percent of the pharmacies in a telephone poll gave the wrong answer, while a few pharmacists even said the two drugs should be taken together, Liu said.
Pharmacists’ failure to answer this question could lead to therapeutic duplication (use of multiple drugs from the same chemical family or therapeutic class), which might cause negative side effects such as low blood pressure or fainting.
“For every NT$100 spent on National Health Insurance, NT$25 is spent on drugs,” Liu told a press conference yesterday. “However, community pharmacies are not performing their role of providing sufficient information to help consumers use medicinal drugs in a safe way.”
Foundation executive director Joanne Liu (劉淑瓊) urged pharmacies to show more self-discipline and improve their professional training. The foundation also called on the Bureau of National Health Insurance to enforce its drug-use registration system through the use of National Health Insurance cards.
In response, Taiwan Pharmacist Association secretary-general Eric Tseng (曾中龍) said illegal sales of prescription drugs without prescription or a pharmacist’s license was strictly forbidden and that the association had cooperated with local health bureaus to inspect pharmacies.