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HEALTH

Why are medicines in Germany only available in pharmacies?

Over the counter medicines like paracetamol are not usually available to buy in German drugstores or supermarkets. We spoke to an expert to find out why there are strict rules on the sale of some medical products - and why they seem pricier than other countries.

View of a shelf with medicines against coughs and colds in a pharmacy.
View of a shelf with medicines against coughs and colds in a pharmacy. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

If you’ve ever found yourself scanning the aisles of drugstores like DM or Rossmann wondering where to find the ibuprofen, paracetamol or cough mixture, you will be disappointed – they can generally only be bought in pharmacies in Germany. 

It can be a big culture shock to foreigners who are used to picking up some medicines while doing their weekly shop at the supermarket or while buying shampoo at the drugstore. 

So why are these over-the-counter medicines only sold in the Apotheke?

We got in touch with the Federal Association of German Pharmacist Associations (ABDA) to find out more.

Christian Splett, a spokesman for the association explained that – with very few exceptions – only pharmacies can sell over-the-counter (OTC) or non-prescription drugs in Germany. He said this is enshrined in German law, and is based on a couple of important principles.

Firstly, there is an emphasis on consumer protection.

“In Germany, we have a high standard of consumer protection which emphasises prevention rather than compensation,” said Splett. “We wouldn’t want someone to go and buy a pack of pain killers from a petrol station and then get seriously unwell.

“Healthcare is not like any other business. We have a serious responsibility for people’s health.”

Linked to this is the principle that taking medication is not something to be taken lightly.

A man taking a paracetamol tablet. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

“In Germany, it’s seen as really important that the use of medicinal drugs isn’t trivialised,” Splett said. “This is strengthened both by cultural attitudes and by the law.”

Since 2004, it has also been possible to buy medications from online pharmacies, from medicine providers such as DocMorris and Shop-Apotheke, which are sometimes cheaper than the high street pharmacies. 

These mail-order pharmacies are fully-fledged on-site pharmacies with a mail-order permit under the German Pharmacy Act.

Who decides on the prices of medicines?

On the question of why prices of medications such as cough medicine and standard pain killers seem to be higher in German pharmacies than in other European countries, the answer may lie in the fact that German pharmacies have complete freedom to set their own prices. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany will roll out e-prescriptions this year

“Despite strict regulations and moral obligations, pharmacists still have to act like other business owners, for instance, they set their prices for over-the-counter drugs with regard to the competition,” Splett explained.

According to the website of the Federal Association of German Pharmacist Associations e.V., the prices for individual drugs or for an entire product range can involve calculations based on various business and competitive factors.

For example, the purchasing conditions of a product may vary depending on the manufacturer, wholesaler, order quantity or season. Pharmacies also have to factor in the costs that they incur themselves, such as for personnel or other material costs.

The competitive situation, which is determined by the range and prices of neighbouring pharmacies, can also influence a pharmacy’s price calculation.

Meanwhile, there’s also the 19 percent value added tax (VAT), which also makes the price higher. 

Member comments

  1. What amazes me is the over the top price of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) drugs in Germany. If the government was really honestly interested helping people stop (or at least drastically reduce) their dependence on tobacco products they would keep the prices down below the equivalent price of cigarettes. You can buy the same Nicotine replacement drugs in the UK for less than HALF the price in Germany. Absolute madness

  2. What a load of German bollocks! The pharmacies are an oligopoly and have no real competition. This is just one of many areas of German protectionism that really irritates me, a couple of the others being the Notaires and the chimney guys!

  3. AND it keeps the many pharmacies in business which is the likely the main reason. I don’ remember reading too many aspirin overdose stories in the news while living in other countries.

  4. I cannot recall ever being provided with medical advice when asking for a packet of Ibuprofen or Paracetamol in an Apotheke. I was passed the item in the same way a Supermarket or Garage Employee in the UK did. I don’t buy that the interest of the consumer’s health is the reason items are only available in Pharmacies. If a UK Supermarket can sell an own brand paracetamol for less than a pound this gives you an indication of the profits to be made. In my personal opinion I believe profit and competition is the main driver.

  5. Out one hole:
    “In Germany, we have a high standard of consumer protection which emphasises prevention rather than compensation,” said Splett.
    Out the other end:
    On the question of why prices of medications such as cough medicine and standard pain killers seem to be higher in German pharmacies than in other European countries, the answer may lie in the fact that German pharmacies have complete freedom to set their own prices.

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HEALTH

The vocab you need for a trip to the dentist in Germany

Going to the dentist can be daunting at the best of times and being unsure of the language can make things ten times worse. We’ve put together a guide of the German words and phrases you need to help take some of the pain away.

The vocab you need for a trip to the dentist in Germany

When you arrive at the dentist, you’ll usually be asked if you’re gesetzlich or privat versichert (if you have state or private health insurance) and asked to present your health insurance card. However, for most procedures, you will still have to pay something extra on top. 

The most common reason for a trip to the dentist (Zahnarzt) is having eine Vorsorgeuntersuchung (check-up) or a cleaning appointment (eine Zahnreinigung or eine Prophylaxe) which most dentists recommend having twice a year.

Most health insurers won’t reimburse the full cost of teeth cleaning – so make sure you check beforehand with your Krankenkasse which costs are covered.

In a cleaning appointment, the dentist will remove plaque (der Zahnbelag) and check the health of your teeth (die Zähne) and gums (das Zahnfleisch). If they tell you that they see Karies (tooth decay) then you may be told to come back for another appointment to get a filling (eine Zahnfüllung or eine Plombe).

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

They will certainly remind you at the end of the appointment to use Zahnseide (dental floss) on a daily basis (täglich) and also recommend that you use Interdentalbürsten (interdental brushes) for cleaning in between the teeth.

In the chair

When you actually get into the hot seat, you will be usually asked to do certain things by your dentist or dental assistant (Zahntechniker) so they can do what they need to do.

The first thing you’ll usually be asked to do is ausspülen bitte – to rinse your mouth with mouthwash (die Mundspülung) usually in a plastic cup in a little sink next to the dental chair. They might ask you to keep the liquid in your mouth for a certain number of seconds until they tell you to ausspucken (spit it out).

A woman undergoes a dental examination. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Markus Scholz

When you’re lying down, you’ll inevitably be told Mund öffnen bitte or aufmachen bitte (open your mouth) and likewise, you might be asked to zumachen (close) your mouth at some point. Other typical instructions in the dentist’s chair are: Mundlocker lassen (relax your mouth), Kopf zu mir drehen (turn your head towards me) and Kinn nach oben (chin upwards).

Types of dental issues

There are numerous complaints that could compel you to pay a visit to the dentist, but one of the most common is having a filling (eine Zahnfüllung) or having a crown (eine Zahnkrone).Your health insurance will cover the cost of the most basic kind of material for filling up a cavity, but you will be presented with a price list (or if you aren’t – ask) for the different types of materials for crowns or fillings.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How dental care works in Germany

Another common complaint is having to have a tooth removed (eine Zahnextraction) – a particularly common procedure for a wisdom tooth (der Weisheitszahn). A more serious extraction procedure is a root canal treatment (eine Wuzelkanalbehandlung).

If you have this kind of procedure, you will normally be offered a local anaesthetic (örtliche Betäubung or Lokalanästhesie) and you may also need an X-Ray (ein Röntgen).

More useful phrases and vocabulary

Braces – (die) Zahnspangen

Sensitive teeth – empfindliche

ZähneTooth pain – (der) Zahnschmerz

Dentures – (die) ProtheseI have toothache when I chew/drink – Ich habe Zahnschmerzen beim kauen/trinken

I have light/strong pain on this tooth – Ich habe leichte/starke Schmerzen an diesem Zahn

My gums are inflamed – Ich habe eine Entzündung am Zahnfleisch

I am nervous about the treatment – Ich habe Angst vor der Behandlung

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