Hysteria of pandemic inflates prices for popular medicines in Tatarstan

Antivirals and anaesthetics have risen in price the most as expected — the Russian government has not included them in the list of essential medicines

Prices for popular medicines in Kazan pharmacies have increased sharply — by an average of 20-50%. Such a serious rise in price of medicines has been for the first time in the last 2 years — the last jump was observed in the summer of 2018 amid falling ruble. Although in the spring at the beginning of the pandemic a small increase in drug prices was also recorded, it was short-term. A sharp rise in the cost of medicines occurred this autumn, in September-October, the prices for Pentalgin, TeraFlu, Linex and other popular products soared. The list also included antiviral Ingavirin and Arbidol, until they began to disappear from pharmacy shelves due to excessive demand and failures in the labelling system.

Drug prices go up

Medicines in pharmacy chains in Tatarstan have risen sharply this autumn, Realnoe Vremya found out. Tellingly, such a significant increase in prices was not observed during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost of medicines began to rise in late summer and early September, coinciding with the deterioration of the Сovid-19 situation and the growth of seasonal diseases (flu and viral respiratory infections).

The analytical service of our publication has studied the price dynamics for 20 most popular medicines, including best sellers: Actovegin, Arbidol, Cardiomagnyl, Lazolvan, No-Spa, Nurofen, Pentalgin, Teraflex, TeraFlu, Essentiale Forte and others. Prices for medicines are collected according to the largest Kazan pharmacy chains, such as Sakura, Aprel, Farmland and Vita. All data is from the websites of pharmacy chains — in reality, they can be even higher.

Second price increase in 2 years and both amid falling ruble

The last time the cost of medicines jumped in the summer of 2018, when the most popular drugs rose by 17-18%. The cost of a set of medicines compiled from the list of the most popular drugs in Tatarstan (one unit or package of each) then amounted to a record 16,900 rubles. The increase in prices was related to the growth of the foreign exchange rate, primarily the dollar and the euro. From December 2017 to September 2018, the dollar rose by 13,9%, to 65,6 rubles, and the euro — by 10,6%, to 76,2 rubles.

This increase was explained not only by the imported origin of a number of medicines, but also by the use of foreign components in the production of domestic medicines. Initially, pharmacies had stocks of drugs purchased at the same rate — when pharmacy chains were forced to buy new drugs, filling the deficit — the prices went up. Subsequently, in 2019, prices stabilised and even went down, and there was a negative trend in annual terms, which, of course, did not exclude an increase in prices for individual medicines.

For the first time, the cost of medicines slightly increased against the background of fears of Tatarstan citizens at the end of March this year, just before the start of the lockdown. If from January to March, despite seasonal diseases (for the same flu, the second wave of which always hits citizens in February-March), the cost of the “medicine basket” of 20 items fell from about 14,000 rubles to 13,800, then by March 27 the medicines rose by 5,6%, to 14,600 rubles, in a month.

However, after a month in isolation, Tatarstan residents calmed down a little, and, apparently, that's why the prices of medicines went down. It is noteworthy that out of five medicines that did not lose in price from April to August, and even rose in price, four antiviral drugs are indicated for use in the treatment of influenza and viral respiratory infections, are used for the prevention or treatment of influenza and acute respiratory viral infections. Rosstat also noted a record increase in the price of medicines in Russia in early May: as its experts found out at the time, medicines were the most expensive non-food products in April 2020.

Pharmacists explained the increase in the cost of medicines by the high demand of the population due to the unfavourable epidemiological situation and subjective fears of a shortage.

Obviously, the growth of the dollar and euro against the ruble (the ruble has already fallen by 30% since the beginning of the year) will really hit in 2021 — when, after increased demand for medicines in the spring and autumn of this year, stocks of the most popular drugs will run out, and new pharmacy chains will buy them at the new foreign exchange rate.

Arbidol goes up by a quarter

After there was talk of a “second wave” and the growth of daily detected carriers of coronavirus began in the second half of September, the demand for medicines naturally increased (despite that even in stores people are warned not to self-medicate). Along with the demand, prices also began to grow. On average, top medicines rose in price at the end of September by 4,12% compared to September 2019, showing the largest price increase in 2 years, as we mentioned above. The “medicinal basket” of popular tablets, ointments and syrups has grown by almost a thousand rubles in just one month — up to 14,800 rubles for all 20 medicines that are in regular demand in Tatarstan. In a year, the price increase was recorded for all medicines, even those not related to the treatment of seasonal flu and viral respiratory infections. Russians, apparently, are trying to treat the coronavirus with them or take it for prevention, just in case.

An attentive eye will immediately notice that the price of drugs that are indicated for the treatment of either the flu with viral respiratory infection, or to combat the symptoms caused by them or the same coronavirus (headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) has increased the most.

Price growth accelerated in October

In October, price growth in pharmacies accelerated by 1,75 times. And in annual terms (compared to October 2019), it has already amounted to almost 107%. The “medicinal basket” by the beginning of November already cost 15,300 rubles. The cost of a basket of 20 most popular medicines in Kazan pharmacies has exceeded the threshold of 15,000 rubles for the first time since August 2018. Antiviral drugs or drugs that fight the symptoms that cause them have gone up the most.

Ingavirin and Arbidol disappeared from pharmacy shelves

Over the past week — the last week of October — the prices for the 20 most popular medicines in Kazan pharmacy chains increased by 2%. The most expensive products were TeraFlu for flu and colds (by 12%) and Lazolvan (by 6%). .

In some pharmacies, Ingavirin disappeared at the beginning of the year, and later a shortage of Arbidol began to be felt.

Increased demand and problems with labelling

The unexpected shortage is due to a failure of the drug labelling system. In addition to Tatarstan, other regions of Russia are experiencing a shortage of medicines, and not only for the treatment of diseases caused by the new coronavirus infection. Medicines for the treatment of flu, viral respiratory infections, and pneumonia are disappearing. In this regard, last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded to provide him with reports from the regions on the supply of medicines.

The labelling system, which was supposed to resist falsification, was launched in 2017, but only became mandatory for all medical products from July 1, 2020. Since July, all participants in the turnover of each bottle, package or blister of drugs at each stage from production to sale to the end user are required to report to the drug movement monitoring system (MDLP).

The unlabelled medicine is not allowed for sale, but the system, despite that it is only 10% loaded so far, regularly crashes, fails for several hours, or even for several days. Two-thirds of foreign companies that are members of the Association of International Pharmaceutical Manufacturers have already reported problems with the supply of 40 million packages of medicines to Russia.

In Tatarstan, pharmacies do not have enough Aquadetrim, Kleksan, Arbidol, and their analogues are not regularly supplied. There are not enough antibiotics prescribed by doctors. The problem is that some of the drugs are not clear how to label: marking a large batch can take days (marking must be on each bottle, pack, blister). The servers that should receive information about the implementation of the drug and that should give a response-permission for its further movement, often do not work, unable to cope with the flow of information. Last week, the ministry of industry and trade of Russia reduced tensions by relaxing the requirements of the system — from now on, it works in notification mode and especially important drugs will have the opportunity to enter the pharmacy without labelling.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has recently called the situation with a shortage of certain medicines from the list of vital and essential drugs “unacceptable”, so his government decided to introduce a new mechanism for registering such drugs to ensure wider access to them, and prepared a corresponding decree. The measure, however, will affect only the most popular drugs, “the price of which is not expected tot grow”, Mishustin said. However, with the current mechanism for re-registering prices, it is impossible to index them, and as a result, production stops, and the supply of drugs stops. From now on, the Federal Antimonopoly Service will make sure that if the price of drugs decreases abroad, they will also become cheaper in Russia. Besides, the government extended the simplified procedure for registering medicines for a year, until January 1, 2022, so that their supply is not interrupted.

By Sergey Afanasyev