The Italian pharmacy, or Farmacia, doesn't deal in many non-medical items, but they do have a monopoly on over-the-counter medications like aspirin and decongestants--and those medications may also include alcoholic "elixirs."
Italian Pharmacy General Information
The number and opening hours of Italian Pharmacies are regulated by law. Pharmacies operate on a "rota" system designed to ensure an open pharmacy (or one which can be opened in a medical emergency) in each general area at night, holidays and Sundays.
Each Pharmacy displays a card with its own opening hours, emergency telephone number, and where to go outside of those opening hours for emergency services.
Pharmacists in Italy are allowed more leeway in dispensing health advice and selling pharmaceuticals than in the US. If you can describe your condition well, you may be able to procure a prescription directly from a pharmacist in Italy. Likewise, if you need a prescription filled on an emergency basis, you may be able to do so--if you know the scientific or generic name of the medicine you need and can make a good case for the pharmacist to dispense it.
When to go to the Italian Pharmacy
For minor aches and pains, cold or flu, and "little" non-critical emergencies, your best bet may be to head over to your local Farmacia. You'll go to a Farmacia for aspirin and even vitamins. Italian pharmacies will often carry homeopathic and herbal remedies as well.
If you are suffering something more serious, or have had an injury not likely to be helped by aspirin, you can go to the 24-hour casualty departments, or pronto soccorso, at any hospital.
If you are unable to transport yourself, the toll-free medical emergency telephone number in Italy is 118. You may get an ambulance by calling this number, or if you do not require transport to a hospital, the First Aid Service (Guardia Medica) will be sent.
Your Medicines in Italy
Before you leave on your Italian vacation, you'll want to make sure you have enough of your prescription medicines for the duration of your trip. In addition, to avoid problems down the line, you'll want to carry the following:
- Carry the medications in their original container.
- Carry all medicines with you in your carry-on bag.
- Accompany each medication with a physician's written description of the medical problem.
- Know the generic or scientific name of the medicine.
The latter advice is crucial if you need to replenish a medicine during your trip. American pharmaceutical firms often give proprietary names to their version of common medicines and these names are not always recognized overseas.
The information you carry above should be typewritten for clarity.
Other Things You May Find at an Italian Pharmacy - Elixir di China
You may be startled to find liquor in an Italian Pharmacy. No, I'm not talking about rows and rows of wine and booze, but most likely something labeled "Elixir," usually something like "Elixir di China." This has nothing to do with the country China but with the herb Cinchona Calisaya which contains quinine, among other substances, which probably give the drink its "tonic" and healing qualities and made pharmacies the logical choice for experimenting with recipes.
Besides herbs, alcohol was (and is) a fundamental part of the medical pharmacopeia. Ingredients dissolve well in it--and besides, water in medieval times wasn't the best choice to offer to sick folks.
My local pharmacy in Italy carries its own formula of China elixir, called Amaro Clementi, elixir di Fivizzano. The Farmacia Guidetti in Bergamo provides a recipe for their Elixir of China, as well as a guide to drinking it.