French Lead the World in Prescription Drug Abuse

March 9, 2004

Because of cheap drugs and accommodating doctors, Western Europeans, especially the French, take more tranquilizers and antidepressants than practically anyone else in the world, according to the International Narcotics Control Board.

Currently:

  • France has more pharmacies than any other European country -- 23,271 for about 60 million people, almost double the number in the United Kingdom, which has a similar population; Germany, with 82 million people, has 1,700 fewer pharmacies than France.
  • Painkillers, antidepressants and tranquilizers cost the country's medical-insurance system more than $20.09 billion a year, contributing to a widening deficit in the country's social-security system, now $17.7 billion.
  • The French consume 78 tranquilizers and antidepressants per 1,000 persons, whereas Americans consume only 64 per 1,000 persons.
  • Although the U.S. pill-consumption rate is 18 percent lower, Americans on average spend more than three times as much on antidepressants than the French.

The soft attitude toward hard drugs in France is starting to set off alarms. France is considering a proposal to assign only one general practitioner to each patient and require a referral to see a specialist, much as managed-care networks do in the United States. It would be a major shift away from the current system in France, which lets patients see any doctor they wish.

Source: Charles Fleming and Anne-Michele Morice, "Europe Ends Soft Stance On Hard Prescription Drugs," Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2004.

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