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Allergy Drugs May Be Sold Over the Counter

FDA panel approves move overwhelmingly

SATURDAY, May 12 (HealthScout) -- Allergies bothering you? Soon you may get relief without having to visit your doctor first.

In move without precedent, a Food and Drug Administration panel urged the agency Friday to let three popular allergy medicines -- Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec -- be sold without a prescription. What sets this overwhelming vote apart is that the move was sought by a third party (an insurance company) and strongly opposed by the drug's makers.

The agency usually follows the recommendations of its advisory committees, but this reclassification is anything but a slam-dunk. As this Washington Post article points out, the makers have threatened to sue the agency if it allows the pills to be sold over the counter.

WellPoint Health Networks, a division of Blue Cross, sought the change, arguing that the antihistamines are too expensive. The 40 million or so allergy sufferers should have "greater ownership of their health care," the insurer says, and keeping these drugs on a prescription basis makes it impossible to have a broad-based, affordable benefit. Selling them without a prescription will bring down the price, the argument goes.

But the makers argue that the insurers aren't acting out of the goodness of their hearts so much as their own bottom line. If the drugs go over the counter, then the insurance companies won't have to foot the bill anymore.

To learn more about the way drugs are reviewed, visit the Food and Drug Administration. For more on drugs and safety, try the Institute for Safe Medication Practices or the U.S. Pharmacopeia.

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