Authorities slam Apoteket prescription plans

Plans by Sweden's state-owned pharmacy, Apoteket, to start a joint venture with American prescription management company Medco have been slammed by the Swedish Competition Authority as a potential abuse of Apoteket's monopoly.

Apoteket’s plans, which have been widely reported in the press, come as the company looks set to lose its monopoly of the Swedish pharmacy market. The government wants to partially deregulate the sale of prescription drugs in 2009.

“If Apoteket’s board decides to create such a company it would mean that the company, protected by its legal monopoly and together with a private company, would be building up an infrastructure on which future competitors would be dependent to sell medicines to consumers,” Competition Authority director general Claes Norgren said in a statement on Wednesday.

Apoteket’s board is set to approve the deal with Medco on Tuesday. Media are reporting that the joint venture would handle computerised prescription management.

The Swedish Pharmacists’ Association and the Swedish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry both criticized the plans when they became public in the spring.

Apoteket claims that the criticism is based on out-of-date information, something Swedish Pharmacists’ Association chairwoman Cecilia Bernsten says she doubts.

“It’s hardly likely that there have been any radical changes,” she said.

The Competition Authority agrees with opponents of the monopoly that Apoteket has major competitive advantages as deregulation approaches. These include its established network of outlets and other infrastructure, as well as its well-known brand.

“It is most urgent that the government creates good conditions for a well-functioning market as it opens up the market to competition,” said Norgren.