As of 2009, there are four levels of over-the-counter drugs sold in Japan under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.
-Class 1: new OTC drugs or those with potentially serious side effects, which usually require a consultation with a pharmacist before they’re given to you
-Class 2: OTC drugs that have some side effects, but are not as serious as Class 1
-Class 3: OTC drugs with minimal/low side effects
-Quasi-drugs: products like cosmetics or energy drinks that have effects similar to drugs, but which can be sold outside of pharmacies
The system has a fair amount of regulation, and basically serves as another example of how Japanese healthcare is based around preventative or symptom-based care.
This week’s vocabulary:
医薬品 (いやくひん): medicine
That thing that looks like jelly is not food, it’s medicine.
新薬 (しんやく): new medicine
My grandmother’s stomach cancer has gotten worse. Is there a better and new drug?
薬店 (やくてん): drugstore (often with a more limited selection than a 薬局)
A “yakuten” does not usually have prescription drugs.
服用 (ふくよう): dosage
This medicine’s dosage is 3 times a day, 1 tablet each time.
医薬部外品 (いやくぶがいひん): quasi-drug
Soap, hair color, and energy drinks, among other things, are considered quasi-drugs.
Other sources on the subject:
The Japanese healthcare system is based around low-cost, publicly available healthcare with plenty of emphasis on preventative care. Healthcare is universal, insurance is taken out by the government or employers, and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare sets prices for drugs and procedures, in a system similar to the UK’s National Health Service. Compared to other Western powers, though, Japan spends much less on healthcare than its contemporaries. This approach has some upsides, such as an emphasis on Chinese traditional medicine, self-medication and personal responsibility, but also some downsides, especially with regard to important aspects of care like hospital stays and the treatment of diseases like obesity and mental illness. Ultimately, the system will need to change in some areas in light of Japan’s increasing elderly population and decreasing workforce. In spite of some measures of personal responsibility being put into place, like the tokuho program and an emphasis on self-medication, there are still several problems with the system. The reforms from current prime minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” economic policies are one way that the government is readjusting the system, but it will take much more than this in order for the government to truly find a solution.