The president of Japan’s largest chain of drug stores voiced opposition Wednesday to a general discount store operator offering free drugs after shop attendants obtain instructions from pharmacists by videophone.

“It’s best for qualified people to make judgments” and sell drugs directly to buyers, Namio Matsumoto said at a news conference. “We, as experts, must give top priority to safety.”

Don Quijote Co. last month began selling drugs after midnight at 10 outlets in Tokyo, with sales staff communicating with pharmacists via videophone.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has reportedly warned the company such sales might violate the pharmaceutical law, which obliges drug retailers to station pharmacists at outlets on a full-time basis.

In response to the warning, Don Quijote began offering drugs at no cost at night in emergency cases based on instructions from pharmacists through videophones.

The service partly reflects a shortage of pharmacists.

Matsumoto, president of major drugstore chain operator Matsumotokiyoshi Co., said “health care advisers” recognized by the association should be authorized as nationally qualified experts and stationed at convenience stores and other retailers to sell drugs.

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