File Picture Branded medicines are sold for as much as ten times the price of bargain versions

DRUG firms are selling exactly the same medicines for wildly different prices in different packaging, an investigation found.

Consumer watchdog Which? exposed cases where branded medicines are sold for as much as ten times the price of bargain versions – despite the drugs being identical.

Other companies drum up business by selling their treatments in different boxes – suggesting they have different uses – despite the contents being the same.

Which? also found some firms charge a huge premium to mix very cheap treatments into combination pills.

The most common money-making scheme was selling medication for which there is little evidence. Richard Headland, of Which? magazine, said: ‘We found you’re sometimes wasting your money?…?as there is a lack of evidence that they work and there are cheaper alternatives.’

A panel including a GP, an academic pharmacist, an optometrist, toothpaste experts and a dietitian assessed products for Which?.

They found £4.50 Sudafed Day & Night Capsules for colds and flu – containing paracetamol, decongestant phenylephrine and caffeine – are no different from those sold by budget store Wilko’s at 95p.

Painkiller Nuromol, combining ibuprofen and paracetamol, costs £6.99 for a box of 24 – 29p per pill. This is around ten times more expensive than taking two separate pills that amount to the same dose.

Generic versions of paracetamol and ibuprofen cost as little as 45p for two boxes of 16 – just 3p for two pills, one of each drug. Other brands, including Combogesic, use the same tactic, selling their ibuprofen-paracetamol combination for £3.99 for a box of 16.

The researchers also highlighted the case of Otrivine, which sells its £3.50 nasal spray in three different boxes – labelled for allergies, congestion and sinusitis – yet they are medically identical.

Which? said: ‘This type of rebadging is allowed by the regulator, but we think that it’s fundamentally misleading for anyone who doesn’t read the small print on the back of the box.’ The Proprietary Association of Great Britain, representing manufacturers of over-the-counter drugs, said firms are breaking no rules and have the right to charge prices that reflect customers’ trust in their brands.

PAGB’s John Smith said: ‘Branded over-the-counter medicines enjoy a long-standing heritage of trust?…?For a medicine to be granted a licence, manufacturers must provide robust evidence to show it is effective before it can be sold in pharmacies and other retail stores.’

But Which? said: ‘It’s not always easy to decide which over-the-counter medicines and products such as cough medicine, eye wash and cold and flu remedies are worth your cash. Our research has found many cases where you could buy far cheaper alternatives that work just as well.

‘We want companies to be more open in showing us their evidence, but in the meantime, be sure to ask the pharmacist any questions about the products, and check the key active ingredients to see if you can find a cheaper alternative.’

© Daily Mail