Medicines (medicine) prescribed by a doctor are obtained from a chemist's (farmacia), denoted by the sign of a red or green cross on a white background. Most chemists' are open from 8.30am until 12.30pm and from 3.30pm to 7.30pm. Outside these hours, at least one chemist's in all areas or towns is open until late (or 24 hours in major cities) for the emergency dispensing of drugs and medicines (a duty roster is posted on the door of chemists' and published in local newspapers). After midnight you may need to ring a bell to summon the chemist. Chemists' are privately owned in Italy, often passed from one generation to another within the same family, and the number is strictly controlled. There are no chain chemists' as in Britain and the USA.
Prices of medicines aren't controlled by the government and vary considerably according to the brand, and many medicines are available without a prescription in Italy that would require one in some other countries. Pills (pillole) are the most common prescriptions given by doctors, although you may also be prescribed a series of injections (iniezioni), suppositories (supposta) or, less commonly, powders (polveri). Some common medicines, e.g. vitamins and cough linctus, can be surprisingly expensive. If you're registered with social security, you pay a proportion of the cost of prescription medicines (known as the ticket)according to their 'group', as follows:
Group Includes Percentage Paid
A Insulin, some painkillers (although 10
not aspirin), antibiotics, cortisones,
ulcer treatments & eye drops
B Hormone treatments, antacids & 50
some anti-inflammatory drugs
C Aspirin, throat pastilles, vitamins,
throat gargles & dermatological creams 100
In order to pay the ticket cost of Group A and B medicines, you must produce a doctor's prescription. Senior citizens with an annual income of less than â‚?7,000, children under the age of six and those suffering from long-term chronic diseases pay a maximum of â‚?.50 for group A and B drugs. All Class C and non-prescription medicines, however, must be paid for at the full cost. Some medicines cost less than the ticket price, in which case you can save money by buying them without a prescription! If you need a small quantity of medicine, your doctor may provide it free from his own supplies. For certain medicines you can obtain one or more repeat doses (e.g. within a three-month period) without the need for another prescription.
Italian doctors commonly prescribe homeopathic medicines, which are popular in Italy and stocked by all chemists, some of which specialise in homeopathic medicine (look for the green Omeopatia sign). Note that the word droga means illegal drugs (narcotics).
Italian chemists stock a narrower range of goods than is the case in, for example, the US or the UK. Products are generally medically-related, although some cosmetics (usually skin creams) and toiletries are sold, as well as health and diabetic foods, and some orthopaedic items. Chemists also sell prescription spectacles and some can perform simple tests such as blood pressure. Chemists are often consulted for minor ailments and many Italians use them as their local clinic (often in order to avoid a long queue at a doctor's surgery).
Herbalist shops (erboristerie) selling herbal products and other 'alternative' medicines are found in many towns and cities. There are also shops known as negozi sanitari, which specialise in orthopaedic medical equipment and generally stock a wide range of products for handicapped and disabled people, including wheelchairs and bath aids, plus items such as prostheses, knee and arm supports, and orthopaedic shoes. Provided you have a clinical need, up to â‚?6 of the cost of each item is paid by social security.
If you're visiting Italy and take a medicine regularly, you should ask your doctor for the generic name, as the brand names of medicines vary from country to country. If you wish to match a medicine prescribed abroad, you need a prescription with the medicine's trade name, the manufacturer's name, the chemical name and the dosage. Most medicines have an equivalent in Italy, although particular brands may be difficult or impossible to obtain. It's also possible to have medicines sent from abroad, for which no import duty or VAT should be payable. If you're visiting Italy for a short period, you should bring sufficient medicines to cover your stay. It's also recommended to bring your favourite non-prescription medicines (e.g. aspirin, cold and flu remedies, lotions, etc.), as they may be difficult or impossible to obtain in Italy or more expensive.
This excerpt has been republished with permission from Survival Books. Some of the information may apply to EU citizens only. If you would like to get the inside track on moving to Italy, pick up your copy of this great book by clicking here.