Report: Latvia, Estonia have costlier OTC meds than Sweden

In Estonia and Latvia, prices of different over-the-counter (OTC) medications are often considerably more expensive than in Sweden or Finland, according to a study carried out by Estonian public media ERR, published January 17.

ERR looked at the prices of pain relief and other common meds on online pharmacies of Estonia, Latvia, Finland, and Sweden. It can be seen that Latvia has the most or second-most expensive medicines in many cases.

The table below shows the prices of some of the OTC meds included in ERR's report.

Medication Estonia Latvia Finland Sweden
Nurofen €10.19 €11.45 - €4.84
Ibuprofen €4.51 €5.07 €3.94 €2.52
Strepsils €7.44 €7.83 €10.27 €5.68 
Blister plasters €11.30 €10.55 €7.60 €4.66
Claritine €5.23 €6.16 - €6.07
Voltaren €12.81 €15.49  €23.05  €15.65
Enterol €9.54 €11.16 €13.67 €9.18

Experts interviewed by the ERR explained that price differences may be influenced by a number of factors, such as the starting price set by the manufacturer, market competition, as well as laws.

The final price of medicinal products is also affected by the value-added tax (VAT) rate for OTC  medicinal products – it is zero in Sweden, 10% in Finland, 9% in Estonia, 12% in Latvia. In Lithuania, the VAT is 5% for reimbursable medicines, while in others the standard rate is 21%.

Regional policy, where the price of medicines is used to subsidize the operation of pharmacies in sparsely populated regions – essentially by setting up a pharmacy tax – plays an important role in Finland's expensive prices for over-the-counter medicines. The debate about its validity has been going on in Finland for decades, ERR reported.

The Swedish pharmacy association has previously assessed that allowing medicines to be sold in grocery stores has boosted competition and reduced prices.

Estonia does not yet have political support to bring over-the-counter medicines to store shelves. Discussions have always been stifled by the argument that selling meds requires professional advice.

In order to limit the monopoly of certain pharmacy networks, the Competition Council in Latvia offered to allow the sale of over-the-counter medicinal products in supermarkets 6 years ago. The Latvian Traders' Union also tried to achieve this, but the Ministry of Health rejected this idea, explaining that there is sufficient coverage of pharmacies in Latvia.

Last year, Health Minister Hosams Abu Meri said he was prepared to discuss the possibility of allowing the sale of over-the-counter medicines not only in pharmacies but also in shops and petrol stations.

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