Types of medicines and where the buy them

Where do you buy medicines? How much do they cost? Do they have to be prescribed by a doctor? This article provides useful information about medicines, such as the types that are available, how to buy them and how much they cost.

Where do I buy medicines?

Medicines are available to buy at any pharmacy in Italy. There are no other places where to buy them. In both small towns and large cities it is possible to find a pharmacy to buy the medicines that you need. There are usually two types of medicines that are available in pharmacies: medicines not requiring a prescrizione or ricetta (prescription) or medicines that do require a prescrizione or ricetta.

What is a prescrizione/ricetta (prescription)?

The prescrizione o ricetta  is a sheet of paper that is either written out or filled out by the doctor and includes his signature. The prescription is often called a ricetta. You will often hear this word in place of prescrizione. The doctor writes the medicines you need to buy at the pharmacy on the prescrizione so you can treat your health problem. Doctors usually prepare the ricetta at the end of your appointment, and after carefully reviewing your symptoms and understanding how you should be treated. The ricetta is only mandatory for certain types of medicines. Let's see which ones.

The medicines requiring a prescrizione are the most complex medicines normally used to treat infections, or serious and chronic diseases. You must follow your doctor’s directions about taking the medicines very carefully.


Once you have the prescription from your doctor, you should go to the pharmacy and show the prescription to the pharmacist. Often, once the pharmacist has given you the medicines, they will keep the prescription and will not return it to you.

Medicines not requiring a prescrizione are usually basic medicines to treat minor aches or pains, such as pain relievers or anti-inflammatories to treat a headache, a fever or a stomach ache.

In this case, just go to the pharmacy and ask the pharmacist.

There are two versions for several medicines whether they require a prescrizione or not: the generic version and the brand version.

The two versions are practically identical and their effects are the same. The only difference is the price. Generic medicines cost less than brand medicines because production costs are lower.

If your doctor has prescribed a brand medicine, you can ask the pharmacy if there is a generic version so that you pay less. In fact, many people buy generic medicines instead of brand medicines.

There are three price categories for medicines:

  • Category A – medicines that the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN) (so the State) pays for. These medicines are practically free at the pharmacy. The person will only have to pay a small amount (about 2 euros) at the pharmacy as a minor contribution to the cost that is covered by the State. Medicines with a prescrizione/ricetta by the doctor belong to this category.
  • Category C – medicines that citizens pay for. These medicines are not paid for by the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN) so the person must pay the cost. Medicines that do not require a prescrizione/ricetta belong to the category.
  • Category H – medicines that are paid by the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), but are only used in hospitals. These medicines are paid for by the State and are only used in hospitals.

The price of the medicine you are buying, and therefore the category to which it belongs, will appear  automatically to the pharmacist and cannot be changed.

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