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Standardized prescription drug form delayed yet again
The exact number of drug supplies affected by the process remains unclear. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
The exact number of drug supplies affected by the process remains unclear. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
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BEIRUT: The introduction of standardized drug prescriptions has been delayed again, pushing back implementation of the form meant to monitor the country’s mostly unregulated prescription practices, almost a full year since a law on pharmaceuticals was enacted.

The use of a single form for doctors, patients and pharmacists was intended to be a simple reform by the Health Ministry to gain a measure of control over the drug prescription process.

The individualized numbers on each pad, which doctors were supposed have received in January, are intended to be an easy way to track down poor prescription practices.

There is no single form that doctors use to prescribe medication currently, and it’s easy for patients to obtain medicine without a prescription. A number of people have become seriously ill from using black-market drugs sold at some pharmacies.

Ziad Nassour, the head of the Order of Pharmacists, told The Daily Star that disputes within the organization about the standardized prescription is stalling its launch.

“There are some problems among the Order of Physicians. Some of them want to apply the form and some of them don’t, and this is creating the problem,” Nassour said.

The law to implement the new prescription form was passed in December and announced by the head of the Health Ministry in a joint news conference with the heads of the Order of Pharmacists and Order of Physicians.

But the actual process of getting the form to pharmacies has undergone a number of stops and starts.

Visits to pharmacies in February after the law was intended to begin implementation showed many pharmacists had little to no knowledge that the form was to be used.

Nassour announced in April that printing delays had held up the use of the form until August. The latest setback pushes the use of the legally required form almost a full year after the law was passed.

Nassour said he had little understanding of the current hold-ups to implementing the form.

“It’s a question of implementing the law, which was endorsed in Parliament months ago,” he said. “This is not to be discussed, it’s to be implemented.”

Nassour said he expects Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil to start intervening in the process soon to speed up implementation.

“Now the health minister is putting pressure in order to make the Order of Physicians apply the law,” he said.

Officials from the Order of Physicians were not available to comment Friday, despite several requests.

When implemented, the form will be issued three times, with one copy for the doctor, a second for the patient and a third for the pharmacist.

The Health Ministry plans to use the serial numbers and form copies to create a detailed registry of doctors, leaving a paper trail to root out poor prescription practices.

The form is part of a broad effort by the Health Ministry to rein in the pharmaceutical industry. Khalil pledged Tuesday his commitment to raising the standards of the industry. – With additional reporting by Maya Fawaz

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 28, 2012, on page 3.
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