Drugs sold 'without adequate warning'

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The Consumers' Association is to oppose any further switches of drugs from prescription-only medicines to over-the- counter sales in pharmacies after "alarming" evidence that pharmacists are failing to warn of potential drug-interactions, or advise patients who should consult a doctor to go to one, writes Nicholas Timmins.

In the past three years, some 30 powerful drugs which used to be available only on prescription have been switched to pharmacy sale. The move is aimed at cutting both the drugs bill and the need for GP visits, while providing more convenience and choice for patients.

Highly effective drugs that have changed status include the painkiller Nurofen, the indigestion and anti-ulcer drug Tagamet, the anti-diarrhoeal Imodium, Triludan for hay fever, and Canesten which treats fungal infections.

Many are now heavily promoted by the industry. But as more and more powerful drugs are switched over the evidence is that "pharmacies can't cope", Which?, the association's magazine says. "Some pharmacists admit that the sheer pace of change over the past few years threatens to overwhelm them."

Researchers were sold the wrong drug for their condition 14 out of 30 times. In six cases sales took place despite the pharmacist or assistant being given information which showed the drug might put the customer at risk.