Many channels of medicine distribution
From the factory gate to the patient’s hand, the medicine passes through many steps.
There are currently two wholesalers in Finland specialised in the nation-wide distribution of medicines. Wholesale distribution is based on the one-channel principle whereby the pharmacy or hospital can only purchase the pharmaceutical company’s products from one wholesaler.
- Pharmacies are responsible for the retail distribution of prescription and self-care medicines. Nicotine replacement therapy medicines are an exception. There are over 800 pharmacies in Finland, including subsidiary pharmacies and the pharmacies of the Helsinki and Kuopio Universities.
- Pharmaceutical supply services in the public sector can be organised through a hospital pharmacy or medicine dispensary run by the municipality or local government regional authority. Medicines can also be bought from a public sector or outpatient pharmacy. There are 24 hospital pharmacies and over 200 medicine dispensaries in the municipal, state and private sector.
- The vaccines included in the vaccination programme are free for the patients and are distributed through the healthcare system. Other vaccines are bought by the patients at their own expense from the pharmacy.
- The Military Pharmacy attends to the medicine supplies for the Defence Forces, the Finnish Border Guard and Peacekeeping Forces.
- Veterinary medicines go from the wholesalers to the pharmacies or directly to the veterinary surgeons.
Availability of medicines
The pharmacy network covers all of Finland. Legislation should ensure the access and availability of medicines also in the remote areas of the country.
The national medicines policy highlights the importance of the nation-wide access to medicines also in exceptional and emergency situations. The tools to this end are the pharmaceutical emergency supply and statutory stockpiling systems. The pharmaceutical substances to be kept in the statutory stores are defined in legislation, which also determines the volumes, in terms of monthly consumption, for each substance in the statutory supplies.
The statutory stockpiling obligation applies to pharmaceutical companies, importers and healthcare units. Working under the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, the National Emergency Supply Agency
pays the pharmaceutical companies compensation for the extra expenses incurred for the stockpiling.
Counterfeit medicines are health risks
The World Health Organisation WHO defines counterfeit medicines as follows:
- “A counterfeit medicine is one which is deliberately and fraudulently mislabelled with respect or identity and/or source.” The fake information may relate to the composition and origins of the medicinal product or it can be in the form of mislabelling or other false information related to the product.
Counterfeit medicines are always health risks. The substances or other ingredients in a counterfeit product may be false or outright dangerous. In the worst-case scenario, the counterfeit medicine may be lethal.
Cleanness of distribution channels is key
The most alarming scenario is the entry of the counterfeits into the legal distribution channels. Work is done to prevent this both nationally and internationally.
The European Commission is preparing a directive to prevent the penetration of counterfeit medicines into the legal distribution chain. The pharmaceutical industry has launched its own project under the auspices of its European umbrella organisation Efpia
. The aim is to make every step of the individual medicine package traceable until it is in the hands of the patient.
No counterfeit medicines have been detected in the legal Finnish distribution system. Every year, the Customs
seize great volumes of counterfeit medicines, mostly various potency enhancing products and some influenza medicines, ordered by individuals from abroad through the Internet.