The price of headache pills in Italy is nothing short of extortionate. A packet of 20 Aspirina 500mg aspirin based headache tablets can cost you as much as €4.50 in Italy’s pharmacies (€3.85 with a discount). In the United Kingdom, you can buy a packet of 16 500mg paracetamol tablets for 39 Pence which is a mere 46 Eurocents!
One headache pill costs around 22.5 Eurocents in Italy. In the UK, the price per pill is a little over 2 Pence/Eurocents, sometimes much less.
If you go for, as Italians invariably seem to, Italy’s ubiquitous Aspirina C – aspirins with added vitamin C – then the cost per pill, with discount, shoots up to a migraine-inducing 32.5 Eurocents per pill.
How can Italy justify such painfully high headache pill prices? It can’t.
Italy’s new prime minister Mario Monti is trying to liberalize Italy’s over the counter drug market so that common treatments such as headache pills can be sold at lower prices in supermarkets and other outlets which are not run by qualified pharmacists. But Italy’s legal drug dealers are having none of this liberalization stuff.
Italy’s pharmacists, via very powerful support in Italy’s parliament, are fighting tooth and nail to prevent their little monopoly from being ended. With the price of aspirin in Italy, one can understand why – they must be raking in cash and will be highly reluctant for someone to spoil their profitable little party, or should that be ‘racket’?
Needless to say, battling Italy’s monopolistic pharmacies is proving to be a headache for Monti and it looks as if he may be forced to back down owing to the enraged pharmacists threatening strike action.
Monti’s repeated warnings that Italy is in deep trouble economically and that everyone must make sacrifices appear to have fallen on deaf ears with regard to Italy’s pharmacists – who could, if they wished, help reduce the cost of living in Italy. Italy is slipping into recession, by the way.
Italy’s Attractive Pharmacies
As those who have ever had cause to visit one of Italy’s pharmacies may well have noted, they are often very well fitted out, attractive drug stores, or should that be ‘drug boutiques’?. The attractive fittings are funded, most probably, by profits from headache pill sales.
Service, it has to be said, in Italy’s pharmacies is generally very good. The pleasant smiles, one suspects, turn to a gleeful laugh as the pharmacists heads to his or her bank.
Generic equivalents of common treatments are available at slightly more affordable prices, but, generally, you have to ask for them and if you cast doubt on the quality of generic drugs, the pharmacist will invariably agree with you, wistfully thinking, no doubt, about his or her greatly reduced profit margin.
Aspirin is King in Italy
Incidentally, for reasons unknown, Italians tend to prefer aspirin to paracetamol. Wikipedia, referencing a clinical study, has this to say about aspirin:
The effects of aspirin were indistinguishable from those obtained using paracetamol in any respect, except for, possibly, a slightly higher incidence of sweating and gastrointestinal side-effects.
For young children in Italy, paracetamol based treatments are generally recommended – this is good, as aspirin can be dangerous for the young and has been linked to Reye’s syndrome.
Ibuprofen pain killers cost 99 Pence for 16 pills in the UK – don’t ask how much you’ll pay for their equivalent in Italy – the price will be enough to bring tears to your eyes, if not worsen that headache you’d like to be rid of!
At least items bought from Italy’s pharmacies are often tax deductible. This is just as well, seeing as nothing in them is exactly cheap.
A case of profiting from suffering?