Ban on pharmaceutical sales at North Korean markets still in force

Medications sold in North Korean markets
Medications sold in North Korean markets. Image: Daily NK

The North Korean authorities have banned the sale of pharmaceutical products at local markets. The alleged reason for the ban is to prevent people from overusing them and to clamp down on the use of illegal drugs, North Korean sources recently told Daily NK.

“When the authorities banned the sale of pharmaceuticals at local markets in April and May, it was customers who protested, rather than the merchants,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK.

“The market management office just told them that it was an order from above, but now they’re saying the ban is aimed at preventing people from overdosing.”

Daily NK sources in North Korea have recently reported that the authorities are confiscating pharmaceutical products from the homes of wholesalers, and have prohibited the sale of such products at local markets.

“Most of the drugs people buy at the markets are over-the-counter and they take as many doses as they need,” said the source. “Pharmacies don’t have enough stock, so the government has long been at a loss about what to do.”

North Koreans generally use drugs without prescriptions or instructions, so overdoses are common. The lack of pharmaceuticals in North Korea has turned much of the population toward methamphetamines or opium for use as painkillers and to treat diseases.

The North Korean authorities may have started to crack down on street sales to entice the population back toward pharmacies as the official avenues to purchase medicines.

“North Koreans generally self-diagnose and take whatever drugs are at hand. They don’t go to the hospital,” the source said. “They don’t know what the root cause of their illness is and just take whatever drugs they have. There’s a lot of bad side effects to doing this.”

Pharmacies, however, sell pharmaceutical products at expensive prices and still do not hold reliable stocks of medicines.

The authorities plan to expand the number of pharmacies and medical supplies, but these efforts have failed to satisfy demand.

“The authorities have banned the sale of medicines at local markets, but there are still merchants and former doctors who sell them under-the-table,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province reported. “People go to their houses to pick up drugs and the merchants check whether their customers are government agents first before selling them.”