Friday, July 29, 2005

Over the Counter

Marginal Revolution: Rx for OTC

Why aren't more pharmaceuticals available over the counter? In other words, why must we pay the priestly caste known as physicians for the right to treat ourselves? "Safety," we are told (second only to "for the children" as an excuse for giving up liberty). But, as Sam Peltzman pointed out long ago, safety runs both ways. Not getting a pharmaceutical because it's too expensive and time consuming to go through a doctor has adverse safety consequences and there is no evidence that the costs of potential mistreatment outweigh the costs of undertreatment. (In anycase, politics not safety is often the reason for restrictions on OTC drugs e.g. the morning after pill.)

Generally, I would agree. However there are external costs to the use of some drugs. Over use of antibiotics has created tuberculosis that is impossible to cure, and super-strep is around the corner.

Drugs used for problems where diagnosis is difficult and where the effects are difficult to track might be better held behind the counter: such as mood alterning drugs. Or drugs that could be subject to recreational abuse.

I think doctors do have a cartel-like stranglehold on the distribution of precriptions. (And those lawyers with their law.)

Intelligent people have to be restricted because the uneducated masses will blindly pop whatever pills the TV or their cousin Merle will tell them to take.

Maybe you should be able to prescribe yourself medicine after a short quiz on the medicine's purposes and risks. Or a general test that shows you are a person who can responsibly take care of themself.

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