China to Restrict the Sale of OTC Antibiotics

From July 1, 2004, the sale of over the counter antibiotics will be severely limited in China. Antibiotics not included in a list of legitimate OTCs can only be sold with a doctor’s prescription. Popular drugs like penicillin and sulphonamide, now commonly sold over the counter, are subject to the regulation. The directive also includes a ban on antibiotics advertisements on television, in newspapers, and other public media outlets. Pharmacies violating the law face fines of between $1,200 and $3,600. The State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), however, provided few details on how it will enforce the new law.

Shao Mingli, deputy director of the SFDA, explained that the measure helps efforts to monitor antibiotic usage nationwide and suppress the production of illegal antibiotics that do not meet health standards and that have serious side effects. Restricting the use of antibiotics will also stem the growth of increasingly resistant forms of bacteria.

Unmonitored use of antibiotics has resulted in serious health problems in China. Twenty million people suffering from hearing disabilities can trace their problems to the irrational use of antibiotics. In the 1960s and 1970s, abuse of acheomycin damaged the teeth of millions.

For consumers, the restricted products will not only be more difficult to obtain, but more expensive as well. Wang Jifang, a retired doctor from Shenyang said, “The problem is, it’s both cheaper and easier to buy these drugs over the counter. Buying penicillin from a hospital is twice as expensive as buying it over the counter without a prescription.”