SHORTAGES of medicines to treat cancer or avoid organ rejection in transplant patients have uncovered fraudulent sales of medicine in which chemists all over Spain have been involved. Over the last year and a half more than 100 chemists in 14 regions have been investigated for supposedly removing prescription drugs from the legal market and selling them to distribution companies which then sell them on abroad for up to three times the price. The problem is that these sales are forbidden, chemists may only serve patients.
Ramon Jordan, president of the Zaragoza group of chemists, said that 99 per cent of the 22,000 chemist shops in Spain are run by honest professionals and their reputation should not be tainted by the few who break the rules.
The latest scandal was in Aragon, where Guardia Civil officers are investigating 15 chemists. Operation Pharmakon has left three villages without a chemist: Cariñena (3,537 inhabitants), Aguilon (252 inhabitants) and Vera del Moncavo (406 inhabitants). These villages had to be visited by outside chemists to dispense medicines.
Forty chemists in Cataluña were fined in February for the same offence and an operation last summer ended with 50 chemists across Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Pais Vasco, Madrid, Cataluña and Aragon accused.
Head of the Spanish Medicine Agency Belen Crespo explained that two or three years ago the agency started to notice that although sufficient amounts of certain medicines were leaving the laboratories, they were not reaching patients. She confirmed that this happened all over the country and at times supplies had to be imported to cover demand.
The products exported illegally are all similar in that they don’t usually have a simple substitute, there is a high demand for them and they are expensive.
A system to limit stocks in chemist shops is now being put into place in an attempt to end the illegal activity.