Friday, December 3, 2010

Swedish rules: Drugs are bad, Mkay?

I feel a cold coming on, and thus am reminded of one of the biggest contrasts between Sweden & the US – over-the-counter medication – or even presecription meds if we get down to it.

So just what can you do in Sweden when you feel a pain in your throat, or a headache and stuffy nose? You run out to your recently demonoploized pharmacy or now – as of this summer – your local grocery store (hallelujah) and pick up echinacea or the mysterious liquid Kan Jang. Or you can stock up on nasal spray if you are really desparate.

If you have a fever, your options widen a bit – there is tylanol (paracetamol), ibuprofan, and a few others to choose from.

But if it is a decongestant you need, you are basically screwed.

Now don't get me wrong, I love a good herbal remedy, in the beginning stages of illness I am more than willing to give it a go. But when I am miserable, and sick, echinacea just doesn't always cut it.

One of the few things I still buy every trip to the US is a huge supply of Nyquil. Because the only thing that comes close is a doctors prescription for a cough syrup based on morphine. We call it Uncle Sven's Cough Syrup around here.

In general, Swedes are a lot slower to take meds than in the US, where you pop a pill at first sneeze. I know an elderly couple that moved here and had their number of prescriptions halved. They say they have never felt better. Instead, Swedes tend to take a day or two off of work, stay in bed, and recover.

Now you can argue this from two perspectives – that this is an example of socialist mentality trying to deny meds to keep down health care costs – or that this is an example of an out of control capitalist society selling more products than people need, just to make a buck.

I am somewhere in the middle on this one. I have been over prescribed antibiotics in the US, which gave me some health issues in and of itself. But, damn, sometimes I miss being able to find a painkiller with a protective stomach coating, and a decent decongestant.

Oh, and a quick internet search shows that the mysterious Kan Jang is another echinacea concoction.


  1. We own Kan Jang, though I won't take it. Not surprised it is just echinacea. I hoard a bottle of Nyquil that I just used a lot of while I was really sick so I could sleep. My mother will need to bring me some more at Xmas. I miss the drugstores in the US, where you could buy whatever you thought you needed, right or wrong. And remember that most Americans can't really take time off when they are sick from work, so they have to drug themselves just to get through it.

    However the cough drops in Sweden come in a yummy arrange of flavors. Like apple!

  2. This explains why my Swedish girlfriend was entirely unfamiliar with the concept of taking pseudoephedrine to be able to breathe freely during a cold. In the end I posted some to her with instructions.... Now I see it's a cultural thing, not just a epic fail on her part