Pharmaceutical monopoly to end in 2009

Sweden's new centre-right government on Thursday outlined plans to open up the country's market for prescription and non-prescription drugs to competition, Swedish news agency TT reported.

The Apoteket chain of pharmacies is currently the sole provider of prescription and non-prescription medication in Sweden, meaning that Swedes wanting to buy a headache tablet or other over-the-counter products must go to one of Apoteket’s stores.

“Medical products sold in Sweden are sold with quite a narrow margin but that margin can be tightened by having more (actors) to compete,” Social Minister Göran Hägglund told TT.

The government said the proposed changes would improve the availability of medicines for customers in the form of more pharmacies and longer opening hours, and create downward pressure on prices as more providers entered the market.

The government forecast both domestic and international interest in the Swedish pharmacy market.

“There is great interest from people who work in Apoteket to start up (pharmacies) independently but there are also international actors interested in entering the Swedish market,” Hägglund said.

Hägglund estimated the necessary changes to remove Apoteket’s 35-year-old monopoly would be in place by January 1, 2009.

Sweden’s new government, which came to power in September following general elections that ousted the Social Democrats, had vowed to deregulate the pharmaceutical market in its election campaign.