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With Dire Shortage of Key Medicines, Greece Bans Pharmacists Exports

ATHENS  – Greece’s New Democracy government has imposed a temporary ban on pharmacists selling drugs to other countries to make profits, which some were doing to get around regulated prices.

Manolis Katsarakis, a pharmacist and General-Secretary of the Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Association, told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) there are several factors for the shortages.

“I only have one antibiotic cough syrup at the moment to make available, and my pharmacy is across the street from a hospital,” said Katsarakis.

There are significant shortages in over-the-counter medicines such as antipyretic syrups and cough syrups.

“Shortages are found in medicines that mainly concern children such as antibiotics and inhaled medicines,” Stelios Kandylis, a pharmacy owner, told BIRN, especially now during virus and flu season and the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.

Katsarakis said the problem was because of winter viruses, companies closing for the holidays, a lack of raw materials for the packaging of medicines and low stocks in the pharmaceutical warehouses.

The Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Association told the site there’s a lack of medicines for chronic and severe diseases such as heart disease, respiratory diseases, osteoporosis, diabetes, epilepsy, neurological disorders, psychiatric illnesses and glaucoma among others.

The association sent letters to the Ministry of Health and the National Organisation of Medicines asking for authorities to prioritize the Greek market and ban exports of these drugs to ensure supplies.

That brought the ban but Katsarakis argued “this list of medicines must be made permanent to give a clear message to the internal drug wholesale market that they cannot be stockpiled with the aim of re-exporting them at the first opportunity.”

Greece has the lowest prices for medicines in the European Union, making it more attractive for pharmacists, who are largely unregulated over the practice, to continue doing so to profit.

Greek Health Minister Thanos Plevris warned companies to comply with the measures imposed by the authorities in an attempt to deal with the shortages but didn’t indicate whether there would be stricter measures.

“The orders are clear: suspension of operation for anyone who does not cooperate, as in the two pharmacy warehouses (that were shut down after they refused to have their stocks checked.) The checks concern all pharmaceutical companies, pharmaceutical warehouses and pharmacies,” Pleuris said, according to Greek media outlet Ethnos.

The major opposition SYRIZA, with election talk heating up ahead of 2023 polls that could come as soon as April, jumped on the story and blamed the government for the problem.

SYRIZA Member of Parliament Andreas Xanthos, responsible for health issues, said that the shortages were “driving to despite both pharmacists and patients,” and that drug store owners and doctors had a year earlier warned the problem was coming but were ignored.

Xanthos said that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ administration “”follows the same failed prescription: it doesn’t intervene dynamically and in time in the market, it uses the excuse of the problem being global, and then down the road – when things have gotten completely out of hand – it is forced to take fragmentary, incomplete, and therefore ineffective measures.”

He said the problem was “the neoliberal obsessiveness about the so-called ability of the market to self-regulate without strong governmental interference,” using Leftist rhetoric that SYRIZA often employs in arguments.

He also said that it was “a problem of business interests in the sector of private pharmacy wholesalers, “who are profiteering by exporting items at much higher prices than the domestic ones.”

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