Spain has passed a law to enforce the prescribing and dispensing of generic drugs rather than the more expensive brands, in an attempt to save €2.4bn (£2.1bn) a year.
Doctors in Spain will now have to complete prescriptions giving only the details of the active ingredients of the medicine that their patients must take, as well as the dose and format. Pharmacies will be obliged to provide the cheapest available versions of drugs, which are paid for partly by the state and partly by patients.
The move is designed to help reduce Spain's budget deficit as the government works to bring it down to 6 per cent by the end of 2011.
Josu Erkoreka, Basque nationalist deputy, said: "It means an important saving for the public accounts and will, without doubt, benefit most people who use public health services.
"The interests of the big drugs companies must give way to public interest, and what matters is reducing the deficit and lowering the drugs bill for millions of people who use public health services."
However, it is feared that the move will lead to job losses in the pharma sector.