28 Feb 2018

Poland battles illegal export of pharmaceuticals

Polish drugs are among the cheapest in Europe. As a result, each year, up to 0.5 billion euros worth of medications are trafficked abroad, while patients here find it increasingly hard to buy life-saving drugs.

Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko NewsMavens, Poland
Source: Gazeta Wyborcza
Poland battles illegal export of pharmaceuticals - NewsMavens
Medical drugs. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

A recent study conducted by ABR SESTA points to an alarming trend. The availability of life-saving medications in Poland has fallen from 39% in 2016 to 14%. Only 1 in 11 pharmacies provides a popular prostate cancer hormone, Eligard, and only a third of them provide Hydroxycarbamid, which treats leukemia.

We see here one of the trickiest aspects of the common European market. While the flow of goods within has never been smoother, price differences can still create imbalances.

For example, in Poland you can buy the anti-clotting drug Clexane for about 24 euros (100 zloty) but in Germany the price is 4 times higher.

Hence, Polish drugs are illegally purchased, repacked, marked with new trade codes and transported abroad.

The phenomenon is harmful to patients and also leads to malpractice in the field of medical entrepreneurship. Pseudo-companies set up private clinics that issue prescriptions for rare drugs, which then land abroad.

Raising prices would lead nowhere, but the fact that there is no obvious solution does not absolve the Ministry of  health  of having to tackle the issue.

On a larger scale, the situation raises the question of how to protect the national markets while cultivating open trade. It will take decades, if not more, for all of the EU to adapt to the euro and level out the prices. Until then, such problems are bound to emerge.


Details from the story:

  • Since 2012, Poland has fixed prices and profit margins on reimbursed medications, which means that no pharmacy is allowed to sell them for higher prices. Every two months, the Health Ministry consistently lowers the prices of reimbursed medications.
  • Researchers at ABR SESTA called 160 pharmacies nationwide, claiming to be patients. They have examined the availability of life-saving drugs.
  • "According to different estimates, each year, up to 0.5 billion euros worth of drugs are illegally transported abroad,” Tomasz Leleno, spokesperson for the Supreme Pharmaceutical Chamber, claims.
  • The most trafficked medication treat cancer, schizofrenia, leukemia and Parkinson’s disease. Vaccines are also in high demand. 
  • A new method of illegal export is to change the EAN code on the packaging of the drug so that it allows for export.
  • The Ministry of Health recognizes the problem. They have announced that they plan to amend regulations concerning the monitoring of transported merchandise.
  • According to experts, another possible solution is to strengthen the State Pharmaceutical Inspection, which oversees a market worth 8 billion euros (34 billion zloty) and yet is underfinanced and understaffed.

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The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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