They sell prescription and non-prescription medicines, and other products such as cosmetics and toiletries, but don’t usually carry such an extensive range of goods as an American drugstore. Normal opening hours are 9am to 5.30pm Mondays to Fridays (occasionally later on Thursdays or Fridays) and sometimes Saturday mornings. In most areas there’s a duty chemist who’s open longer hours or an emergency contact number is provided for those needing medicines in an emergency (details are displayed in chemists’ windows).
The cost of prescribed medicines is subsidised by the government agency Pharmac (www.pharmac.govt.nz) and should be no more than $15 per item for adults and $10 for children or $3 per item if you have a CSC or High Use Health card. After you’ve paid for 20 prescription items in a year, you’re entitled to apply for a Pharmaceutical Subsidy Card (PSC), irrespective of your income, which entitles you to receive further prescriptions for as little as $2 each for the rest of the year (or free if you have a CSC). You can apply for a PSC at your chemist.
PSC and CSC holders must pay manufacturers’ charges over and above the Pharmac subsidy and the full price for non-prescribed medicines. Pharmac periodically adds and removes medicines from its subsidised list, e.g. several new AIDS-inhibiting drugs such as Ritonavir were added to the list a few years ago, while a number of acne treatments have been removed. If you’re obtaining a prescription item from a chemist, you pay the same price everywhere. However, the cost of non-prescription items can vary considerably and items such as toiletries are often considerably cheaper at supermarkets.
Most chemists’ provide general advice regarding the best medicines for particular conditions, and some are specially trained to provide individual consultations and advice to customers under the Comprehensive Pharmaceutical Care Service. Many patients use this system as a cheaper alternative to visiting a doctor, with the result that some pharmacists have begun charging $30 to $50 for consultations, plus the cost of medicines!
It’s still possible, however, to find chemists who dispense free specialist advice; in the case of minor ailments this can save you a great deal of money compared with the cost of a visit to a doctor, as chemists will also tell you which drugs can be purchased over the counter for less than the $15 prescription charge.