Where Aspirins Cost $15

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It costs 10 euros — about $15 — for a package of 50 aspirins at the local drugstore in Bonn, Germany! What an outrage. Why so expensive? I could get a bottle of generic aspirins at home for well below $5 for 100!

Looking around I also notice, as the photo suggests, a remarkable plethora of pharmacies (apotheken). With few exceptions, those are the only places allowed to sell most drugs, many of which would be over-the-counter in the U.S.

Worse still, so people tell me, each apotheke has a prescribed (no pun intended) area in which no other apotheke can locate. These are classic local monopolies, so it’s not surprising that the prices are astronomical.

Moreover, the geographic restrictions produce clustering at the intersections of territories — just as we often see three or four gas stations on a busy corner.

The solution, in this land where aspirin was invented, is to remove the restrictions on location and on selling most drugs. That is starting to happen, but it probably won’t occur rapidly enough to lessen any of my headaches — especially those induced by ridiculously high aspirin prices!

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  1. Holger says:

    Aspirin is a registered trademark in Germany, so if you’ve asked for it then you got the original expensive one from Bayer (the inventor that lost some patents during the World Wars..). There are cheaper generic ones out there in the market which are remarkably cheaper. Just ask for something generic and you’re going to get ;)

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  2. Ian A says:

    Dr. Hammermesh! It’s so surprising to see you on the freakonomics blog. . .I took your micro eco class in the fall of 2003, with about 750 other people, and it was well worth my time!

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  3. erik de koster, Brussels says:

    maybe aspirin price is high in berlin, but in europe many prescription drugs are half price compared to the states.

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  4. mario says:

    And good luck trying to find one open after 8 or after 2 on a saturday or at all on Sunday’s! It’s one of those things about Germany I still can’t understand…

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  5. Hansel says:

    I’m guessing that the only aspirin offered was Bayer, who still holds the trademark in Germany.

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  6. Prentiss Riddle says:

    I was told as a student in Germany many years ago that there was a pretty strict relationship between test scores and professions chosen: higher-scoring students went into medicine, then law, then engineering, etc. The very top of the list? Pharmacy. That’s because a pharmacy degree guaranteed a higher salary than any other field.

    If true, I imagine that distorts more than just the price of aspirin.

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  7. Andrés says:

    To #5, as #1 pointed out, one would have to look for “acetilsalicilic acid” instead of “aspirin”.

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  8. joe says:

    Maybe you shouldn’t drink too much in the first place.

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