Scores of people in Yerevan queued up to buy antibiotics and other pharmaceutical drugs on Wednesday one day before the gradual entry into force of a government ban on over-the-counter sales of many types of medication in Armenia.
The ban initiated by the Armenian Ministry of Health covers 2,700 of roughly 4,700 medicines that can be legally purchased in the country. They include antibiotics, hormone therapy drugs and painkillers containing codeine. Starting from March 1, pharmacies will not be allowed to sell these items to people who do not have prescriptions signed by doctors.
The restrictions imposed on the other drugs will come into force in October.
Ministry officials say that the measure is necessary to curb self-treatment that can cause serious harm to people’s health. In particular, they argue that many medicines can have dangerous side effects which only healthcare professionals are aware of.
Critics say, however, that the restrictions will make life harder for residents of Armenian villages lacking policlinics or other medical centers empowered to issue prescriptions. They also say that people having easy access to such institutions will have to spend more time and money.
Many consumers have responded to the impending restrictions by stocking up on medication over the past week. The panic buying seemed to have intensified on Wednesday, with lines forming at drugstores across the Yerevan. Many buyers interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian services (Azatutyun.am) complained of a lack of information about prescription drugs.
A senior Ministry of Health official, Anahit Mkrtchian, insisted that the medical authorities have done their best to raise public awareness of the upcoming restrictions. She said state-run policlinics have received detailed information about paperwork required under the new rules and are now prepared for a greater influx of patients.
Mkrtchian also argued that people will not need prescriptions to buy drugs needed for first medical aid. She said they include mild painkillers, sedatives, antipyretics and anti-allergy drugs.