Spending on drugs shoots up despite the limited rise in use

Overall spending on medicines came to 2.22 billion euros (755 billion drachmas) in 2001, according to statistics by IFET, compared to 1.85 billion euros (629.1 billion drachmas) in 2000. For reasons of compatibility with the data of other OECD countries, pharmaceutical expenditure does not include hospital drugs nor parallel exports, which came to 396.2 million euros (135 billion drachmas) in 2001. «Parallel exports,» said Souliotis, «showed an average yearly rate of growth of 51 percent from 1996 to 2001. The phenomenon exists because the same medicines are priced differently in different countries in Europe. Parallel exports are nothing more than the exploitation of price differentials.» Because medicines in Greece cost less than anywhere else in Europe, those imported into Greece and priced accordingly are then exported to countries that have higher prices for drugs. «This phenomenon grew after 1997, since the new pricing system for medicines favored such activity. As a result, products sold for consumption in the Greek market are re-exported, creating problems in its smooth supply.» Kontozamanis stressed that while pharmaceutical companies have seen a rise in orders for certain products, sales of the same products at pharmacies are stable or even declining. Souliotis felt that pharmaceutical expenditure in this country is on par with the average in OECD countries. «The difference is that in Greece, the rise in spending is chiefly associated with the phenomenon of replacing older and cheaper drugs with newer and more expensive ones. Prices in this country are low and the price index has remained steadily below the General Consumer Price Index over the past few years, as well as below the price index for other categories of healthcare. At the same time, there has been a limited rise in the amount consumed (the average yearly rise between 1990 and 2001 is estimated at 5 percent). Indicatively, the market share of domestically produced or packaged products has been continuously shrinking over the past few years in relation to imported products (from 69 percent in 1990 to 37 percent in 2001), which causes unease over the future of the domestic pharmaceuticals industry.» Fall in antibiotic use The tough line taken by the Health Ministry and the scientific community against the overconsumption of antibiotics and reductions in prescriptions for third-generation antibiotics had substantial results, said Souliotis. Though drug categories’ share of total expenditure does not show large differences between 1990 and 2001, antibiotics show a drop from 19.5 percent to 13.3 percent. By contrast, medicines targeting the nervous system show a rise from 10.1 percent in 1990 to 12.6 percent in 2001. «After 1990,» Kontozamanis said in reference to the reduction in antibiotic use, «there was no important development of new and pioneering substances in this category. On the other hand, the State with its restrictive measures and strict controls of prescriptions managed to rein in consumption.»

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