Pharmacy shelves now stocked with new, pricier drugs

According to the study, the market has responded to the state’s recent attempts to rein it in by releasing more and more new and expensive drugs. Between 1996 and 2002 the number of available pharmaceutical products rose by 28.9 percent from 2,679 to 3,454. In 2000, in particular, pharmaceutical firms’ strategy was focused on offsetting the loss of revenue caused by the move to adopt the lowest drugs prices in Europe and limit prescribing by issuing a list of recommended drugs, by replacing old products with new, expensive versions that reached a value of 107 million euros that year, compared to 24 million in 1998 and 66 million in 2002. Pharmaceutical firms In Greece there are 189 pharmaceutical firms, both subsidiaries of multinationals and Greek firms working with firms abroad or independently, but essentially producing similar drugs. No firm has a market share larger than 7.6 percent of the total, so competition is high, although some firms have a larger share of the market in sub-categories (such as cardiovascular or infectious diseases). In recent years there has been a steady decline in domestic production, which does not bode well for the Greek industry in one of its more robust economic sectors. While in 1990 domestically produced preparations accounted for 55.4 percent of total sales, in 2003 this was down to just 19.6 percent and there seems to be no sign of recovery. The scientific director of the Center for European Constitutional Law, Professor Xenophon Kontiadis, commenting on the Council of State ruling, also noted that reduced business activity in the sector would lead to losses, both of preparations that would be no longer profitable and of jobs. Christina Golna, a lawyer and official at the World Health Organization, said that the lowest-price criterion cannot provide answers to a number of questions, mainly legal but also economic, and that is why it is not used in any other European country. «As long as consumption is uncontrolled, even the most extreme price interventions will have no effect,» she said. Another characteristic of the Greek market is the rapid growth of a export industry in «parallel» products that is a result of the unification of the European Union market and the considerably lower prices of Greek-made medications. Distributors prefer drugs they can obtain at cheaper prices in countries where they are being sold at higher prices, creating an apparent shortage in basic medications on the domestic market. While parallel exports were valued at 14 million euros in 1997, by 2002 they had shot up to 556.7 million euros. The report shows that it is time for action in the Greek market, according to Kyriakos Souliotis, a lecturer in public health and economy coordinator of the research project. «However, we need to balance the possible side effects, mainly with regard to the effects on social security funds and individual incomes. We should not forget that a relatively large part of expenditure is covered by householders themselves. According to recent surveys by the Health Economy Department at the National Public Health School, medications are often consumed without a doctor’s advice, but based merely on previous experience of the condition. This widespread practice entails great risks for a person’s health and is to a large extent responsible for the increasing outlay on drugs. Nevertheless, keeping prices too low might raise consumption, and therefore total outlay, even further if it is not balanced by measures to reduce consumption.

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