OTC Pharma

– Don’t underestimate the growing global OTC industry

OTC drugs comprise their own segment in the global pharma industry. This sector is dramatically gaining in importance among patients as an increase in consciousness for preventive medicine emerges. This effect can be seen in the increase in drug market share all over the world.


The OTC pharma market is becoming more and more important. Whereas Rx products continue to dominate the market, the growth rate of OTC products is rising constantly. There are various reasons for the growth of this sector, one of the factors beinh the societal changes in the modern world. Particularly in developed countries, healthy lifestyles are promoted in advertisements on social networks, by health insurance companies, and in magazines, newspapers and so on. People are becoming increasingly aware that they are responsible for their own bodies and that they need to treat them well. The fewer obstacles we encounter in our day-to-day lives, the more we can focus on our physical well-being. Illness is not only the least desirable bodily condition – it is also expensive and thus it is in everyone’s interest to avoid it.

OTC Pharma

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The term “OTC” is the common abbreviation for “over the counter” and is used for all kinds of drugs that can be bought in pharmacies without a prescription. OTC drugs are medicines that cannot harm people when used as described in the instruction leaflet and that do not require the supervision of a physician. Since self-medication is becoming more and more popular among many populations, OTC Pharma products are on the rise.



general OTC facts

Source: CPC



Drug status change

The status of a drug is subject to change as well. Frequently, drugs that have proven safe change their status from Rx to OTC over the years. Over 700 OTC products were Rx products thirty years ago. Thus the range of medicines to which we have free access has been growing immensely.



The trend towards self-medication has been spurred by public opinion makers such as advertisements, magazines and health insurance companies and so on. Preventing oneself from getting seriously sick has become a personal task. Fighting early symptoms with OTC product, trying to avoid getting sick in the first place by adding food supplements to one’s diet, and living a healthier life in general, have become common practices in wealthy as well as in developing countries.


OTC drugs play a huge role in self-medication since they are accessible to everyone. The most popular OTC products include those treating ever day health problems like headache, diarrhea, cough and cold or nausea. In some countries, antibiotics are considered OTC drugs, whereas in others they are Rx drugs and only available by prescription. In Germany as well as in other countries, health insurance does not cover costs for OTC drugs. Thus people pay for them out of pocket.



In the US, for instance, an individual takes 26 trips to buy OTC drugs per year whereas they only consult a doctor three times a year. The availability of OTC products allows patients and caregivers to treat minor symptoms disease quickly and at any time of day.

Compared to most European countries, the US OTC products have long been available in various retail outlets, such as grocery stores and gas stations. In recent years, many European countries have deregulated their policies on OTC sales as well. Scandinavian countries are leading here, but Portugal, Italy and Hungary and others also permit OTC sales outside of pharmacies.

The internet plays a significant role in changing consumer practices as well. Online sales of OTC products play an important role, and, in Germany in particular, online sales have been growing rapidly in the past decades.



The global OTC market

Even though Western Europe and the US remain the leading countries in OTC sales and make up 43% of the global market, the real driving force now consists in developing markets in South East Asia, Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe.

Asian-Pacific countries, excluding Japan, have proved to be the fastest growing region in 2013. The non-prescription sector grew by an impressive 18%, Latin America also demonstrated 14% growth.

In the CEE region the growth rate was 12%, but Russia in particular has been showing significant development in OTC sales in the last decade. This can be explained by rising incomes, increased activity of local and foreign companies and the expansion of pharmacy chains.

Despite global financial crises, the OTC market has continued to rise due to recent innovations, greater promotion of self-medication and increased access to drugs through various distribution channels.

Leading OTC products

Historically the leading products on the OTC market have been cough and cold medicines. Today they claim some 20% of the entire OTC market. The fastest growing segments are skin care products and digestive treatments.


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