Over-the-counter Drugs

March 9, 2012 by staff 

Over-the-counter Drugs, Could some of the most popular prescription drugs in the country, such as cholesterol-lowering statins, soon be sold over-the-counter?

It’s possible, as the Food and Drug Administration is mulling a proposal to waive prescription requirements for commonly used drugs that treat conditions like diabetes, asthma, and migraines.

FDA regulators told reporters that easing access to obtain certain medications could help address undertreated epidemics, namely diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, of the nearly 26 million Americans with diabetes, an estimated 7 million don’t even realize it and thus have not gotten diagnosed or treated. Diabetes is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke.

“These are discussions that need to start happening as we think about people’s health needs and how to improve access,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.

The over-the-counter switch is one of several FDA proposals aimed at increasing access to established drugs or speeding up approval of experimental medications.

After years of high-profile drug-safety cases in which the FDA restricted access to certain medications, the agency is increasingly highlighting its efforts help drugmakers get new innovative drugs on the market. The shift comes as drug companies and their congressional allies have pressured the agency to speed up approvals, complaining that U.S. requirements are more burdensome than elsewhere in the world.

“The world is changing and we have to change to with it,” Hamburg said. “We’re not talking about abandoning standards for safety and efficacy, we’re talking about leveraging opportunities in science so we can do a more effective job as regulators and also improve the drug development process.”

Over the years, the FDA has approved the switch of several high-profile prescription drugs to over-the-counter use. In 2003, the FDA cleared Prilosec, an over-the-counter version of the blockbuster AstraZeneca heartburn drug Nexium. The FDA only approves such changes if studies show that patients can safely take the drug after reading the package labeling.

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