Debate over the sale of medicines in supermarkets and on the internet puts R$ 20 billion in dispute – Notícias

Over-the-counter medicines – known as MIPs and easily found on the shelves of pharmacies and drugstores – are the protagonists of two discussions in the National Congress and in Anvisa (National Health Surveillance Agency). Currently, the products can only be sold through pharmacies, but the possibility is also claimed by ecommerce giants and supermarket representatives with an eye on a market that generated BRL 20 billion in Brazil in 2021 alone.

The discussion in Congress is focused on the processing of two bills: PL 1,774/2019 and PL 1,896/2021. Both allow the sale of MIPs by other commercial establishments, in addition to pharmacies. The text was well received by the liberal wing of the Legislature, but faced resistance from sectors of the pharmaceutical industry and, especially, from the CFF (Federal Council of Pharmacy).

This is because this type of commercial opening represents a significant loss of the market reserve of pharmacies. The sale of these medicines – among them tablets for headache, fever and indigestion, for example – represents 31% of all the pharmaceutical market sells per year. Last year, 1 billion units of drugs categorized as MIPs were sold in the country.

This is what the rapporteur of PL 1,774, deputy Adriana Ventura (Novo-SP) points out. For her, expanding the drug sales outlets would be beneficial for the consumer, who would have greater freedom to choose where to buy. “These drugs are prescription-free precisely because they are safe. Today I can buy as many aspirins I want at the pharmacy and I won’t be approached by the pharmacist or the cashier inside, so it doesn’t make any difference if they are sold in pharmacies or supermarkets”, ponders.

She also states that, in the face of greater competition, the prices of over-the-counter medicines could fall, an argument that could gain echo in the Chamber given the country’s economic situation, with high inflation and reduced purchasing power for Brazilians.

In October last year, the topic was taken to the Social Security and Family Commission of the Chamber of Deputies, which brought together representatives from the pharmaceutical industry, the Ministry of Health and entities linked to the sale of medicines at retail. The meeting ended without consensus on the subject and a new public hearing should take place by the end of June.

Although the issue is under debate in Congress, the last word on it should come from Anvisa – which, for the time being, continues to allow the sale of these products only in pharmacies.

Medicines e-commerce

What is under discussion at the agency, at the moment, touches on another sensitive point for the retail market: the sale of MIPs in e-commerce, including on platforms of technology and retail giants such as Amazon. In 2020, the platform launched an online pharmacy in which the user was allowed to create a profile to receive prescriptions prescribed by medical professionals.

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The innovation stirred the drug market in the United States and, in Brazil, the practice was barred by Anvisa, and Amazon was banned from advertising and making medicines available on its website. The reality is that, even without regulation, online sales are already taking place in pharmacies and drugstores, a phenomenon that predates the Covid-19 pandemic and that has accelerated in the last two years.

Although he has a conservative position on the marketing of medicines, the secretary general of the Federal Council of Pharmacy, Gustavo Pires, recognizes that the retail market cannot ignore technological advances. But this easing, he argues, should be decided with caution.

“We know that there is no going back on the issue of online sales, we have to regulate it in a clearer and more precise way, so as not to leave more gaps. But the problem with the marketplace, in our view, is the mix of medicines with other products, and the medicine is not just any product”, he comments.

Self-medication is also a concern of Anvisa and international health organizations. The consumption of medicines should be based on the benefit-risk balance. That is, the benefits to the patient must outweigh the risks associated with the use of the product. This assessment is performed based on technical-scientific criteria, according to the patient and knowledge of the disease.

To get an idea of ​​the scale and seriousness of the problem, the WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that more than 50% of all medicines are prescribed, dispensed or sold inappropriately. In addition, half of all patients do not use their medication correctly. At this point, the CFF defends the idea that the presence of a pharmacy professional in drug sales places is important in the work of guiding the consumer.

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The capillarity of pharmacies is also an argument used by those who question the flexibility of points of sale. For Pires, there is no lack of access to medicines in Brazil, as the country currently has 89,000 commercial pharmacies and 45,000 health posts and units where medicines are distributed. He even draws attention to the lack of capacity of the pharmaceutical industry to supply these points.

“Pharmaceuticals have reach and, more than that, the industry is often unable to supply the points of sale that we currently have. This is very clear to us when, for example, winter arrives and we have a lack of anti-flu. , with several states in the country suffering from a lack of paracetamol, for example”, he points out.

On the other side of the debate, Marli Martins Sileci, vice president of Acessa (Brazilian Association of the Self-Care in Health Products Industry), argues that over-the-counter medications are the population’s first resource to face mild symptoms and should be understood as a necessity, not simply a consumption trend.

For Acessa, the topic is not only focused on the sale of medicines, but vitamins, supplements and dermocosmetics can also be found more easily on different platforms. “Of course, when symptoms persist, the doctor should be consulted. But at first, the MIP is very useful, it helps to save public money and has to be extended to the entire population. this faster and more organized access journey, whether with physical or online sales”, he concludes.

The working group organized by Anvisa was established on February 9 this year and meets fortnightly, on Thursdays, to discuss the topic. In addition to CFF and Acessa, 19 other entities linked to the pharmaceutical, mobility, technology and health industries participate.