Patrick Bruha

Patrick Bruha

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


Buying Medicines in Brazil

Patrick Bruha

Patrick Bruha

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


In Brazil, drug sales registered a cumulative growth of 82% between 2007 and 2011, totaling USD 43 billion. This impressive expansion has its origin in the expanding pharmacy and drugstore network, as well as in the popular programs adopted by the Brazilian Government.

Where to buy?

According to Brazilian law, medicine is defined as a pharmaceutical product obtained or enhanced technically, with prophylactic, curative, palliative, or diagnostic purposes. It is common to see an overlap in meaning to the term “drug” here in Brazil, with a negative connotation, which is relegated to illicit drugs like marijuana or hashish. The legal definition of medicine in Brazil excludes natural or holistic medicine, although phytotherapic medicines are still common.

Medicines can be bought in Brazil in from a number of places:

  • Drugstores: despite the negative connotation on the term “drug”, the name drugstore is still one of the most used to design places where medicines are sold.
  • Pharmacy: commonly mistaken for a drugstore, the pharmacy possesses a laboratory for the preparation of the formula prescribed by doctors. A pharmacy can also sell industrialized products.
  • Online: the biggest drugstores allow the option to buy online medicines for which a prescription is not needed, and can be delivered to your home.

There are also a large number of online services which compare the prices of different drugs in major pharmacy chains.

According to Brazilian law, it is the responsibility of the municipality to regulate the opening hours of its pharmacies and drugstores. In most of the big cities, the largest pharmaceutical franchises have stores spread across the town in strategic places to meet the consumers' demand. Most drugstores in Brazil are open from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM, and some 24/7.

New resolution on sale of medicines

Brazil has one of the highest rates of drug intoxication in the world, caused mainly by the culture of self-medication which is very common. Aware of this fact, pharmacists and doctors have struggled to keep medicines behind the counters of drugstores and pharmacies, with a pharmacist supervising the sales.

A bill was approved by the Senate, but was vetoed by president Dilma Rousseff in early 2012, which would legalize the sale of over-the-counter medicines in shops such as supermarkets, warehouses, emporiums, convenience stores, and even hotels.

Medical laboratories and big pharmaceutical manufacturers have been pressuring the government to approve the bill, but it is unlikely that the president will not veto another bill in view of the high rates of drug intoxication due to self-medication in Brazil.

Need of prescription

A prescription is often required when a controlled drug - always visible by a red or black strip on the box - is being sold.

In Brazil, the only persons allowed to prescribe drugs are:

  • Doctors
  • Dentists (for dental use only)
  • Veterinarians (for veterinary use only)
  • Nurses (for medicines established by public health programs and approved by the health institution)

As said before, there are different types of stripes for controlled drugs:

  • Red stripe: This indicates that there is no danger to the health of the patient in relation to the risk of death, but there are side effects. The prescription must be presented at the time of purchase, and, in some cases, must be retained by the establishment.
  • Black stripe: This indicates medical risk. The prescription must be presented at the time of purchase and must be retained by the establishment. These are usually antidepressants, anti-epileptic, and anti-psychotic drugs.
  • Yellow stripe: Legal narcotics
  • Blue stripe: Psychotropics
  • White stripe: Retinoids for systemic use and immunosuppressants

For each of those controlled drugs, a standard prescription containing the name, signature, and registration number by the Regional Medical Board is demanded, and sometimes retained.

Any medicine other than those can be bought without prescription.

Government projects concerning medicines

Generic Medicine

Generic medicines first started to be commercialized in Brazil in 1999, after the promulgation of a law known as Lei do Genérico - or Generic Medicine Law - that authorized laboratories to handle and sell drugs that had already lost their ten-year patent protection.

The consumer price for generic medicines is, on average, 57% cheaper than brand-named drugs, and undergo rigorous quality control by ANVISA, Brazil'sNational Health Surveillance Agency. These have become increasingly trusted by the population and doctors in Brazil. They are cheaper than the originals because, after the patent-breaking procedure, they can be manufactured by any laboratory. The importance of generic products is growing in the country and now represents 24% of drug sales.

In a consultation with a doctor, if the patient requires the generic version of the medicine, it must be specified by the doctor on the prescription. On the generic medicine’s package, there is a yellow stripe with a big 'G', and it also has to show the name of the active ingredient. It is forbidden to show the laboratory’s name on the package.

Farmácia popular

Portuguese for Popular Pharmacy, this government program aims to increase the population’s access to medicines, benefiting persons who have difficulty with their treatments because of the cost of medicines. The program has its own pharmacies, but is also linked to a number of private pharmacies and drugstore networks. Participating pharmacies distribute 112 types of medicines, with a discount of as much as 90%.

The condition for the purchase of medicines available in the units is the presentation of the CPF along with a medical or dental prescription.