The Food and Drug Administration said on Wednesday it was exploring whether to let certain drugs be available to consumers without a prescription but only after consulting with a pharmacist.
The FDA said it will hold a public meeting on November 14 to hear suggestions and feedback about the concept, which would make some prescription drugs more widely available to patients.
The agency said it was considering allowing the behind-the-counter sale of certain medications, which would "require the intervention" of a pharmacist before dispensing.
"Some groups have asserted that pharmacist interaction with the consumer could ensure safe and effective use of a drug product that otherwise might require a prescription. Because pharmacists have the training and knowledge to provide certain interventions, they may be able to ensure that patients meet the conditions for use and educate patients on appropriate use of the drug product," the FDA said in a Federal Register notice.
The new access might help patients without health insurance because the medications would otherwise be available only with a prescription, the agency said.
Currently, only a few behind-the-counter drugs such as the Plan B birth control drug are available to U.S. consumers.
Other countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and several European nations already allow a behind-the-counter class of drugs for sale.
The FDA said it wants input from the drug industry, medical community and advocacy groups about whether some drugs should become available on a behind-the-counter basis, what impact it would have on patients' use, and what criteria a drug must meet to be classified as behind-the-counter.
The agency also wants suggestions on what role a pharmacist should play in counseling and monitoring patients' use of a behind-the-counter drug, and what measures are necessary to ensure patient safety.