More non-prescription drugs are coming to vending machines in Maryland

Maryland vending machines can now store everything from allergy relief and contraception to candy or potato chips under a new state law.

A Pharmabox kiosk sells over-the-counter drugs like Advil and Pepto-Bismol at the Arundel Mills Mall, as reported on October 14, 2021. (Rachel Logan / Capital News Service)

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland – Vending machines in Maryland can now store everything from allergy relief to birth control to candy or crisps under a new state law.

Over-the-counter drugs, which can be bought off store shelves without a prescription, were banned from sale in vending machines until 1957, according to tax analyst Amber Gundlach. Until this month, Maryland was one of four states to ban most over-the-counter drugs from vending machines.

In 1994, the Maryland Department of Health authorized a specific exception for over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, in specific forms and in small doses, as well as for condoms.

Twenty-seven years later, on October 1, the SB499 and HB107 standards came into effect, repealing the ban and removing it from the regulatory code.

The new law “simply repeals the ban,” Gundlach wrote in an email to Capital News Service. Now any drug or over-the-counter medication can be sold in vending machines without the state’s health department needing to develop new regulations.

There are no regulations requiring that OTC items be sold in a different machine than food and drink.

A license must be obtained from the local jurisdiction for a vending machine; the fee is $ 2.50 statewide.

In a February report urging the repeal to pass, the sponsor of Bill Del. Robbyn Lewis, D-Baltimore, noted that the pandemic has exposed flaws in Maryland’s health care system. Many of those who live in rural areas or racially segregated urban neighborhoods live in “pharmaceutical deserts,” areas that do not have easy access to a pharmacy.

The average Marylander lives five miles from a drugstore, but only 5% of pharmacies are open 24 hours a day – and those that are constantly open aren’t evenly distributed across West Maryland or the East Coast, according to an article research from 2017 published in PLOS. A review cited in the report.

“In neighborhoods where access to pharmacies and other health resources is limited, the strategic placement of vending machines could help mobilize existing assets such as community centers and churches as hubs for health education. health, ”she wrote.

Lewis also noted that OTC vending machines can reduce traffic to existing health clinics, where there is significant traffic of potentially sick people – a useful tactic to reduce exposure to COVID-19 and its spread during a pandemic. .

On average, primary care physicians surveyed said about 10% of patient visits were due to minor ailments that could be self-managed, potentially with over-the-counter medications, according to a 2011 research article by Paul A. London and Associates writes for Consumer Healthcare Products. Association.

Self-management of half of these illnesses could save taxpayers and consumers $ 5.2 billion a year by reducing doctor visits, relieving the already strained healthcare system, the article said.

Despite the emphasis on equitable access to over-the-counter drugs and pharmacies, neither Lewis nor Maryland Department of Health officials were aware of the state’s efforts to bring vending machines up for sale. free in underserved communities.

On the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University, a student health and wellness center houses a vending machine for “wellness on the go” medication, according to the university’s website.

The machine dispenses everything from melatonin and emergency contraception to antibacterial ointment and itchy cream, each for $ 8 or less, and is accessible 24/7.

The university’s director of media relations, Jill Rosen, said the machine was installed in late 2020 and was popular among students. It is not accessible to the public, only to holders of a university identity card.

Rosen did not respond to questions about how the university organized an OTC vending machine before the state ban was repealed.

Pharmabox, an over-the-counter drug vending company, markets itself as the country’s leading automated pharmaceuticals system with 46 locations nationwide.

Arundel Mills Mall is home to one of two Maryland Pharmaboxes; the other is in a shopping center in Clarksburg. The machine, drab white and shaped like a first aid kit, sits separate from stores or kiosks in a dimly lit central hallway of the mall.

Buyers can check out brand name remedies like Excedrin, DayQuil, and Neosporin in small amounts, as well as toothbrushes, deodorants, and disinfectant sprays. Information about a selected product is displayed on a touch screen prior to purchase.

In the three years since Maryland Pharmaboxes went online, the company has not sought to place more kiosks, as pain relief products were limited to one “travel size”; Now that the drug size and type restrictions are repealed, the company could consider other locations in the state, according to company representative Mariana Circelli.

A manager at the Arundel Mills mall declined to comment on the vending machines.

In 2016, a Regulatory Review and Assessment Report recommended that the Maryland Department of Pharmacy add a definition to the pain reliever sale exemption to distinguish a vending machine from an automated pharmacy kiosk, which sells prescribed medications.

The Department reportedly took the comment into account, but decided not to add a definition because it did not believe that there was a likelihood of confusion between the two types of machines.

InstyMeds, a Minneapolis-based company, manufactures prescription vending machines, which fall into the second category and were not subject to the over-the-counter drug ban.

Robert Bang, vice president of sales and account management, said the machines require at least one local health care provider to partner with InstyMeds and coordinate dispensing prescriptions.

The machine triple checks a barcode printed at a vendor’s office and accepts insurance and payment before dispensing only what the vendor has ordered for the user.

These machines cost a lot less than a full pharmacy, especially considering the $ 1,050 fee for a Maryland doctor’s license and the cost of the pharmacy’s staff and inventory, Bang said.

Bang said Potomac Pediatrics, a primary care office in Rockville, had an InstyMeds kiosk in its lobby for more than five years, quickly distributing everything from ear infection medications to baby vitamins.

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About Alex S. Crone

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