BEIRUT: Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil introduced a standardized prescription drug form Thursday for all doctors and pharmacists in Lebanon, a first step to rein in a largely unregulated drug industry.
Speaking at a press conference at the headquarters of the Order of Physicians in Beirut, Khalil said a single standardized form could alleviate a number of dangerous problems of inconsistent drug prescription and enforce accountability through a registry of all members of the country’s order of physicians.
“The standardized prescription form comes to implement a group of laws that organize the field of medicine,” Khalil said. “This step will put us on the path of the responsible use of medicine.”
Like many industries in the country, prescription drug regulation in Lebanon suffers from uneven and minimal enforcement of the state’s laws. That lax enforcement makes it easy for pharmacies to sell drugs or drug alternatives without official documentation.
In recent years some Lebanese have reported significant health issues coming from use of unregulated imitation drugs. In response Lebanese pharmacy groups have launched campaigns to try and stem the influx of black market drugs into Lebanese pharmacies.
A new form lacks the teeth of government enforcement, but Khalil said he hopes his ministry uses the standardized prescription as a framework to make broad regulation possible.
“The standardized drug prescription form will contribute to reducing the risks of drug misuse and its consequences,” he said.
Each book of prescription forms will have an individualized serial number that the Health Ministry plans to use to create a detailed registry of doctors. Forms will be made in triplicate; one for the doctor, one for the patient and one for the pharmacist.
The registry is intended to provide the ministry with a better picture of the prescription industry in Lebanon and allow it to trace improper prescription practices back to individual doctors or pharmacists. The ministry could also get a better overall sense of the prescription industry with more accurate general use statistics.
“Its an important part of observing how medications are used,” Khalil said.
Khalil said the form would give doctors more control over drugs prescribed and could save Lebanese money by allowing pharmacists to offer low-cost generic brand drugs, with the doctors permission.
The form is expected to be offered from January of next year and to become mandatory for all doctors and pharmacists by April.
The standardized prescription is a first step in what Khalil said would be a number of other reforms coming from the ministry over drug and other health-related issues.
Free Patriotic Movement MP Walid Khoury agreed the standardized form is a small step to fix a “disorganized” drug industry and bring Lebanon in line with international norms.
“This is a good issue I think to make it happen, because we tried everything before,” said Khoury about previous attempts at standardization that included a system of official stamps.
Khoury, a physician, said that once pharmacists are familiar with the new form they will be able to reject other practices they might have seen as unsafe but felt uneasy about rejecting before.
“They don’t have to accept any paper unless they have this one,” he said.
The Jbeil MP said that the generic drug option could save Lebanese a significant amount of money and give people access to drugs not otherwise available. “People don’t have money sometimes to buy the big brand.”
For Khoury, it was a little step to address a larger problem that will need much more work.
“This is in line for what is happening in the world for prescription drugs,” Khoury said. “This is a first step, to know whats happening at least.”