x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Survey finds Abu Dhabi pharmacies unlawfully selling prescription-only medicine

'Everybody is doing it' and 'the next pharmacy will sell it if I don't' were given as the most common reasons why pharmacies sold restricted medicine without a prescription.

ABU DHABI // Dozens of pharmacies have admitted selling prescription drugs over the counter despite knowing it is against the law.

“That prescription-required medications are sold without accompanying prescription forms is not in question,” a new study concludes. “The practice is endemic in the emirate of Abu Dhabi as confirmed by evidence from this study.”

Common reasons given by pharmacies for breaking the law were that everyone was doing it, and if they didn’t satisfy customers then the nearest rival pharmacy would.

Patients said bypassing a doctor was cheaper and simpler, it was easy to obtain what they wanted, pharmacists didn’t mind, all their friends were doing it and they had suffered no physical harm.

“The combination of the buyers’ and sellers’ reasons … exacerbate a complex situation of easy access to medicines and the potential dangers of taking medicines without medical supervision,” said David Yeboah, a professor of epidemiology at Abu Dhabi University and co-author of the study.

Researchers questioned 73 pharmacies: 57 in Abu Dhabi city, 15 in Al Ain and one in Al Gharbia. All admitted selling prescription medication over the counter.

Of 131 patients in the study, 126 said they regularly bought prescription medicine without a prescription. About 10 per cent of these were under the age of 15.

Only one patient had ever been refused, and none had ever been told by a pharmacist about the dangers involved. Only about a third, 51, knew it was unlawful.

Common prescription drugs bought over the counter were Daonil and Metformin to treat Type 2 diabetes, Exforge and Concor for hypertension, and various antibiotics.

Haad, the Health Authority Abu Dhabi, refused to comment.

“Pharmacists are not doctors and what they are doing is not providing professional care, and patient safety and patient care are compromised,” the study report says.

“At best, when they diagnose, prescribe and dispense, they are only addressing the symptoms of the medical condition. The actual condition remains unattended to, placing patients at risk.”

For example, said Prof Yeboah, a person experiencing a burning sensation and pain in his chest could have oesophageal reflex or a more serious heart related condition. When a pharmacist gives a painkiller, the person is being treated for the symptom not the condition.

The study says the law prohibits the sale of prescription-required medication without an appropriate prescription form completed by a qualified and registered medical practitioner.

“So the question everybody is asking is why is the practice of selling medicines without prescription so rife albeit there is legislation against doing so?”

Prof Yeboah suggested random but regular spot checks by police to crack down on the problem.

Despite the results of the study, pharmacies in Abu Dhabi said on Tuesday they would never sell drugs without a prescription.

“No we do not dispense without a prescription,” said Dr Asif Khan, of Al Safa pharmacy on Muroor Road.

“It is the rule from Haad. Without a prescription you can not dispense drugs such as antibiotics. Only products such as Panadol, only products like this.”

He said he would always advise people to visit a physician first. “If some people come here and ask for some products like antibiotics I say a physician can prescribe it. A physician knows about these products not us.”

Dalab Ashour, who works at Modern Urban Pharmacy near Hamdan Street, insisted he would not sell prescription drugs without authorisation from a physician.

“We are not selling like this,” he said. “All the prescription have to come from a doctor.”

Mr Ashour, however, said he believed other pharmacies may sell prescription drugs without the proper documentation.

jbell@thenational.ae