Medicine prices unchanged since end of monopoly

Despite the end of the Swedish pharmacy monopoly, prices for non-prescription medications have remained high.

Three months after the first competitor to the former state monopoly Apoteket opened its doors price differences among the chains remain slight, despite international comparisons indicating significant differences in the costs of everyday medicines.

Paracetamol, which is the active ingredient in products such as Alvedon, is for example extremely cheap in Britain. A 500 milligramme pill costs from around 0.07 kronor ($0.01) in the UK, while in Sweden one of the cheaper alternatives costs from 1.70 kronor.

Eva Fernvall, brand manager at Apoteket, is aware that the prices of non-prescription drugs are often much lower abroad.

“As we have been a monopoly and were thus required to provide a full range of medicines, including non-prescription drugs, pharmaceutical companies knew that we had to buy in everything. We therefore did not have a strong bargaining position,” she said.

The Swedish pharmaceutical monopoly was abolished on November 1st, although the first competitors to Apoteket did not open their doors for business until January 2010.

There are now four dominant market actors – Apoteket, Medstop, Apotek hjärtat and Kronans Droghandel.

A price check conducted by the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) daily during the week March 22nd – 28th showed that prices for popular everyday non-prescription drugs remain high and show little or no difference among the chains.

Fernvall argues that prices will fall when supermarkets and other retailers begin selling non-prescription medicines.

“In six months I think that we will see completely different prices,” Fernvall said, explaining that sales volumes had not yet reached levels that allow for price cuts.

“If (supermarket chain) Ica start selling their own brand of paracetamol then prices will fall quite fast,” she added.

Prices for prescription medicines are regulated in Sweden while non-prescription medicines are now subject to market prices.

Prior to the 2010 deregulation, Apoteket hiked its prices on thirty of its most popular non-prescription brands, claiming that the rises were in response to price increases by pharmaceutical companies. The higher price levels now remain at all four chains, according to the SvD review.

Since November, 5,000 new retail outlets for non-prescription medicines have been added to the market, according to the newspaper.

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Pharmacy to launch plasters for darker skin

Swedish pharmacy chain Apoteket has told The Local it is hoping to offer a range of bandaids suitable for customers with darker skin tones by the end of the year as part of efforts to cut discrimination.

Pharmacy to launch plasters for darker skin
An Apoteket store in Stockholm. Photo: Roger Vikström/TT
The company, which has 370 stores across Sweden said it had come up with the idea after talking to a number of Swedish anti-racism charities.
“We're looking at whether it's possible to have different coloured plasters but we haven't made a final decision on it yet,” Communications Director Eva Fernvall told The Local on Wednesday.
“It won't happen by next week but we hope to have something in place by the end of the year,” she added.
Apoteket faced criticism earlier this week by a Swedish blogger who runs the website (which translates as 'Everyday Racism').
Paula Dahlberg told public broadcaster Sveriges Radio on Monday that the pharmacy giant was contributing to racism by only offering shades of beige plasters (also called bandaids in some countries) on its shelves.
But Fernvall insisted that the company's decision to trial darker products was made long before the writer made the comments.
“The fact she said that demonstrates that there are heated discussions about immigrants and refugees right now,” she said, adding that the national chemist chain was committed to reducing discrimination.
She admitted that the plaster plan was “unusual” and noted that she had “never heard of anything like this in any other countries”.
Debates around immigration have intensified over the last 12 months in Sweden, which currently takes in more asylum seekers per capita than any other EU nation.
The nationalist Sweden Democrat party is the third largest in parliament after winning 12.9 percent of the vote in elections in September 2014 and is continuing to gain public support.
Sweden's government has said it is committed to maintaining the nation's reputation for tolerance and offering help to refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa. But it has welcomed efforts by the European Commission to encourage other European Union member states to take in a greater share of asylum seekers.