With practices of the pharmaceutical industry, community pharmacists, and others having evolved over many, many years, retail distribution patterns for nonprescription medicines vary significantly from country to country. In most instances, such distribution patterns have been translated into national legislation. These patterns range from limiting the sale of all nonprescription medicines solely to pharmacies or drugstores, to allowing all nonprescription medicines to be sold in any retail outlet with self-selection from store shelves by consumers. Where pharmacists are few, some countries have developed specialized non-pharmacy outlets, such as drug seller shops and traditional Chinese medicine shops in Asia.
Countries that allow consumers to self-select nonprescription medicines directly from store shelves include the United States, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, and, for a more limited range of nonprescription medicines, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Switzerland, and Germany. The US is most notable in its openness, as it allows all nonprescription medicines to be sold with self-selection in any and all retail outlets.
A number of countries and individual pharmacies have introduced changes in recent years to either increase the visibility of nonprescription medicines or access to them. Giving consumers more control and power in their own health care and current economic trends have been among the forces behind these changes. Good presentation and visibility of nonprescription medicines not only informs consumers of the range of products available, it can encourage them to seek information and advice from pharmacists or other health professionals.
While WSMI believes examining ways to improve the visibility of nonprescription medicines and access to them is in the public interest, WSMI also recognizes that an attempt to harmonize retail distribution patterns among countries would not be practical.