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Why IS medicine cheaper when we go on holiday?

HOLIDAYMAKERS can make big savings on over-the-counter drugs by buying them abroad.

Many popular medicines for minor complaints, such as painkillers, diarrhoea pills and cold sore cures, are sold for a fraction of the price in Spain, France and Germany.

A small bottle of Duphalac constipation remedy costs just pounds 1.83 in the Costa del Sol, but in London it will set you back pounds 3.50.

Similarly, a packet of 12 Arret diarrhoea capsules costs pounds 2.11 in Germany, compared to pounds 5.15 over here.

Philip Taylor, from the Consumers' Association magazine Health Which?, said: "There is no doubt that consumers are paying through their noses for over-the-counter drugs.

"The prices here can be double what people pay in the rest of Europe."

Santiago Guillen, who has been a pharmacist in the popular Spanish resort of Malaga for more than 20 years, said: "It is well-known in the business that Britons have to pay more for their non- prescription drugs.

"But if holidaymakers ever come into one of our chemist shops they are usually surprised at just how big the difference is.

"Things like indigestion pills, which are often needed by tourists, are less than half the cost. The price of medicines are very strictly controlled in Spain. We are not allowed to mark up the manufacturer's price by more than 10 per cent."

Another reason for the big different in prices is that British pharmacists are still clinging to old price-fixing rules that the rest of the High Street abandoned in the 1970s.

Phil Taylor said: "Pharmacists claim they would go out of business without these rules,but we believe this is no longer true.

"These days they sell a lot of other things too and a much greater percentage of their turnover is from prescription drugs. The law should be changed." But Sheila Kelly, a spokesman for the manufacturers of non-prescription medicines, said: "We are confident that while it may be possible to buy some medicines slightly cheaper in other countries, on the whole, consumers in the UK get excellent value for money."

In May, pharmaceutical company Stafford Miller won a court order against supermarket chain ASDA after it tried to slash the price of over-the-counter drugs.

An ASDA spokesman said: "We believe that the law imposes a pounds 300 million health tax on the elderly and families with children who buy drugs."

But the Office of Fair Trading has now won the right to challenge the price-fixing system later this year.

However the Government, consumer groups and the Sunday Mirror's Dr Mark Porter (see below) have warned holidaymakers to be careful if taking advantage of lower prices abroad.

Language problems and a difference in the brand names of popular cures mean there is a risk you could end up taking the wrong drugs.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health advised: "If you fall ill when on holiday and are in any doubt whatsoever, go and see a doctor rather than buying something over the counter."

HOW THE PRICES COMPARE

PRODUCT ENGLAND SPAIN FRANCE GERMANY

200ml Duphalac solution for constipation

pounds 3.50 pounds 1.83 pounds 2.24 pounds 2.81

100ml Liquid Gaviscon for indigestion

pounds 1.99 pounds 0.95 pounds 0.85 N/A

30 Nicorette chewing gum to help smokers quit

pounds 5.69 pounds 3.55 pounds 4.08 pounds 7.75

12 Panadol Pain Killers

pounds 1.59 pounds 1.45 pounds 2.90 N/A

12 Arret capsules for diarrhoea

pounds 5.15 N/A N/A pounds 2.11

300ml Benylin Chesty Coughs solution

pounds 6.39 pounds 5.53 N/A N/A

30mg Daktarin Dual Action Cream for athlete's foot

pounds 4.99 pounds 1.92 pounds 2.24 pounds 3.52

20 Dequadin Lozenges for mouth and throat infections

pounds 1.89 pounds 1.65 N/A pounds 1.76

2g Zovirax cold sore cream

pounds 5.49 pounds 2.04 pounds 8.23 N/A

large tube of Deep Heat Rub for muscular pain and stiffness

pounds 3.99 N/A N/A pounds 3.52

20mg Canesten Cream for fungal and candidal skin infections

pounds 3.89 pounds 1.90 N/A pounds 3.87
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Article Details
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Author:Kelly, Amanda
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 15, 1999
Words:706
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