Discount retailer Don Quijote Co. said Wednesday it will dole out free medicine to night-time shoppers in times of emergency when pharmacists are not available at any of 10 selected outlets in Tokyo.
The decision follows warnings from health regulators that the retailer’s remote pharmacist system — pharmacists selling drugs via TV phones — might be illegal. The Pharmaceutical Affairs Law requires certified pharmacists to be on the premises selling medicines.
The firm said the planned giveaway is for “humanitarian reasons” because few stores are open after 10 p.m. Its outlets are open until early morning, and some operate 24 hours.
Since Aug. 1, the chain has been selling drugs via TV phones at some of its outlets when pharmacists are unavailable.
Some 4,100 sales were made via this system in the 19 days through Tuesday. The online pharmacists are stationed at a remote site.
During a news conference, Takao Yasuda, president of Don Quijote, did not hide his anger toward the regulators. It is hard to understand their warning when drugs can be sold via mail-order and medical treatment via TV phone is already in practice elsewhere, he said.
But as a publicly traded company, discretion is the better part of valor with authorities, he said. “If it was not a listed company and wholly owned by me instead, I would stick it out to the last,” he said.
To avoid the clause pertaining to sales, the firm will hand out drugs for free in cases of late-night emergencies beginning in September. Eligible customers must still undergo a consultation with a pharmacist via TV phone.
The free offer will be limited to emergencies, such as cases of fever, and to necessary doses. Customers will not receive the whole package of a drug.
A lawyer said he did not see any problem with the plan, Yasuda said.
“Flight attendants dispense drugs for the sick on board planes,” he said. “If authorities are not OK with (the new system), they should regulate airlines.”
Don Quijote has logged record profits and revenue every year since it opened its first store in 1989. But it has bothered many neighboring residents, who complain about the noise generated by late-night shoppers.
The firm has been trying to polish its image by emphasizing community-based services, including the late-night sale of drugs.