Japan to Impose Restrictions on Sales of Over-The-Counter Drugs to Minors

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A Japan Pharmaceutical Association poster, indicating the importance of preventing people from overdosing on over-the-counter medications, is seen at a drug store in Tokyo in November 2021.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry intends to prohibit the sales of over-the-counter medicines that could be abused, such as cold medicine, in large quantities or multiple doses to those under 20 years of age.

To tackle the growing problem of people — especially young people — overdosing on over-the-counter drugs, the ministry plans to revise the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Law by 2025, after holding discussions with an expert panel.

A proposal to strengthen regulations on sales of over-the-counter medications was approved at a meeting of a ministry panel on Monday.

The proposal targets over-the-counter drugs that can be purchased at pharmacies and drug stores that contain six kinds of substances that could be addictive. It is estimated that about 1,500 products fall under that description.

The ministry is considering regulating sales of such products by only allowing those below 20 to purchase one unit, which would also have to be smaller than the standard size. Regardless of whether the product is sold in person or online, the person must show identification. Explanations regarding the drug’s side effects and other information will also have to be provided via in-person or online conversation. Sales records will also be kept to keep track of repeat customers.

Following the tightening of regulations on dangerous drugs in 2014, cases of young people overdosing on over-the-counter drugs have increased.

According to a survey by the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry based in Tokyo, there were no records of over-the-counter drug use among patients aged 10 to 19 who were treated for drug addiction until 2014. However, in 2022, the number increased to 65%.

The health ministry currently requires drug stores and pharmacies to confirm the names and ages of junior high and high school students when selling them medication, however, it might not have been done thoroughly enough.

“Overdosing has recently become a more serious problem, and we will move forward with measures that can be implemented without waiting for a change in the law,” said a ministry official.