Big variation in French non-prescription medicine cost

The cost variations were found in both brick-and-mortar pharmacies and online, the association said

Non-prescription medication in France can vary in cost by as much as 300%  - even for medication bought online - a rural family association has claimed, as it calls for greater price transparency.

Rural family association Familles Rurales has spoken out about varying prices of certain non-prescription drugs, after finding that costs could fluctuate significantly between sources.

It is now calling on fraud and consumer office Direction Générale de Consommation, de la Concurrence et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCCRF) to require more transparency on medicine costs, and to sanction pharmacies that fail to display clear and fair pricing.

Certain non-prescription medicines in France have been available to buy freely by private individuals - from brick-and-mortar pharmacies and online - since 2008, a measure that was intended to improve citizens’ buying power.

However, Familles Rurales has now said that the price of certain drugs has soared between 2010 and 2018, including on the top 15 most regularly-used products, such as Activir (antiviral cream), Hextril (medicated mouthwash) or Nurofen (ibuprofen painkillers).

It said that the price of Nurofen had jumped by 25% in eight years, compared to Strepsils throat pastilles at 19%, and antacid Maalox at 12%.

Taxes on these drugs had also risen, they said, from 5.5% in 2012 to 7-10% in 2014.

The price of Strepsils has jumped significantly (Raúl Hernández González / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

The association said that in many pharmacies, these drugs do not have price labels on them, and that many others are still kept behind the counter - despite not requiring a prescription.

This means that patients have to ask for them even before they know the cost.

The association said: “It is very difficult, therefore, for consumers to know that they are going to pay before buying.”

Even online pharmacies are not exempt from the rising costs, the association said. It found that the same drug can costs three times’ more, depending on where it is being bought, “and sometimes even more than this”.

For example, a tube of Activir - usual price between €2.49-€2.99 - was found on sale at a price of €9.20 at one pharmacy, and €6.66 online.

Online prices can appear “falsely attractive”, the association said, as most online pharmacies will also add on extra shipping charges - on average €6.15 per order - bumping up the overall cost.

Familles Rurales said: “Medicines are high-risk products that require pre-purchase information.”

Following a consultation between the association and pharmaceutical group la Fédération des Syndicats Pharmaceutiques de France (FPF), FPF president Philippe Besset has confirmed that a new website on the issue will go live soon.

The site, at the address www.lepharmacien.fr, will include drug files with the different prices identified. Pharmacists will also be able to list the prices charged in their individual pharmacies and consumers can search by location. The goal is to build up a more transparent database of costs.

Familles Rurales has welcomed this decision, but said it would be keeping a close eye on the enforcement and transparency of the site information.

The new website comes five years after the ministry of health launched its own page, giving free information and access to anyone seeking information on medicines available in France.

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