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FDA considers creating 'behind-the-counter' drugs

The United States is weighing whether to make some drugs more easily available by letting pharmacists dispense them from behind the counter without a doctor's prescription.

The new category would be an intermediate step between prescription medicines and over-the-counter remedies, the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement on its Web site today.

"Behind-the-counter" drugs would benefit patients who don't have health insurance and can't afford to visit a doctor, proponents say. The FDA didn't specify what drugs may be included in a new category. Statin drugs that reduce cholesterol, such as Merck & Co.'s Mevacor and nasal steroids for allergies may be candidates, said Jan Engle, a pharmacy professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago.