Prescription Medicine and Pharmacies in Mexico

Buying prescription medication in Mexico, especially in a small town such as Ajijic or Lake Chapala is a little different from buying it in the United States or Canada.  There are many pharmacies (farmacias) in Mexico. There are small “mom & pop” size pharmacies and large “chain” pharmacies. One of the more difficult adjustments is learning your medication in its Spanish name.

Prescriptions and Antibiotics

First of all, most of your medications are going to be available without a written prescription from a doctor. Until very recently, even antibiotics were available without a prescription. But in 2010 a new law went into effect making antibiotics a class of medications that must be prescribed by a medical doctor.  A doctor must prescribe also all the “scheduled” drugs such as narcotics, tranquilizers and sleeping medications.

Doctors own some of the pharmacies and they are available to consult right at the pharmacy. Most of the large “chain” pharmacies have consultants to handle the antibiotic medications and simple medication questions.  Remember, this is Mexico, so most of these services are available in Spanish only.

Comparing costs on medications in Mexico

It is hard to describe the cost of medication, as it is difficult to compare to what is paid in the United States or Canada. Most people who purchase the medication pay only co-pays (US) and do not pay the full retail cost. That being said, one sleeping medication sells for $119 pesos for 20 tablets. At today’s rates that’s $9.17 USD. Sixty tablets of Metformin 500 mg is $46.70 pesos or $3.06 USD. A medication for an enlarged prostate, Secotex, 20 capsules, sells for  $575.93 pesos or $44.40 USD. Allergy medication sells for $33.70 for 10 tablets, or $2.60 USD.

Packaging is different. Most medication comes in boxes with the pills in blister packs, not in pill bottles with a label for the instructions. A box of medication may contain only a few tablets. North of the Border people are used to purchasing a monthly supply. But here in Mexico, where the average daily wage is about $5 USD, people can purchase only a small amount of medication at a time. Allergy medication is sold in packs of 10. Blood pressure pills may have 14 to a pack. Viagra is available in single doses. So when purchasing medication, it is very important that you know what your dose is, and how often you need to take the medication so you ensure you are purchasing the right amount of medication. Having stated the normal quantity per package, when asked, the pharmacies do stock for us in larger quantities.

Instructions and types of medications

Metformin

All the instructions for taking the medication are written in Spanish. If you do not read Spanish, you should be careful about taking a medication until you have found out what the dosage instructions are.

There are many times that medications are sold in a combined form. The diabetic medications Metformin and Glyburide are often combined in a single tablet. People have had problems regulating their blood sugars when they found they had been given the mixed medication by mistake. It is absolutely essential that you check the medication they give you before you purchase it, or swallow it.  As an example Metformin is sold in Mexico as “Metformina”. If you don’t want the combination, ask for “Metformina solo”. As you become familiar with the packaging, you’ll be able to read the contents since they are listed the same way they are up north.

Generics and Brand names available in Mexico

Names of medications are difficult no matter where you live because they are mostly made up of Latin terms. There are brand names, generic names, and the names of the actual medication. The Internet is very helpful with this.  If a doctor prescribes a medication, it is always wise to ask the doctor about what the medication is, why it is being prescribed, what it is supposed to do, and what the side-effects could be. But often we get busy and forget to ask. The Internet will have the name of the medication so you can look them up and answer your own questions. There is even one website that will give you the English name of the medication and the Spanish name.

Bigger Pharmacy chains carry a bigger stock.

Another issue that may concern you is availability. Not all pharmacies will carry all your medications. The “chain” pharmacies, such as Farmacia Guadalajara (one located in Chapala and Ajijic), WalMart (located in San Antonio Tlayacapan) or Soriana stock the greatest variety of medications. But it is often a “hit or miss” proposition. If you take a number of different medications, it may not be uncommon to have to try several pharmacies before you complete your order. There are times when some medications mysteriously become unavailable for a short period of time, and it doesn’t matter how many pharmacies you try – they may all be out. The pharmacies will offer generic alternatives, and some may place orders. Check out the generics, even ask your doctor, and if they are acceptable substitutes, you may save money. Some ex-pats build up a supply of certain medications with which they have experienced supply problems in the past.

Similares Pharmacy are known for generics

“Similares” are also drug stores. They stock generics that may or may not save you money if the drugs they offer are either the same or a generic variation of what you normally take. These can be handy, especially when the regular pharmacies are low or out of stock on your regular medications. For example, I was taking one medicine that was inexpensive compared to costs up north. I discovered that a Mexican “knock-off” was half the price and did the same job.

It may all seem a bit intimidating at first, but many of the ex-pats will notice a newcomer at the pharmacy and offer assistance. Before long, people devise their own system of medication management. All in all, buying medications in Mexico is far cheaper than it is, even with co-pays, anywhere up north. Shop around. You’ll learn your way quickly.

Resources:

Prescription Drugs From Mexico by About.com
Buying Prescription Drugs in Mexico by US Consulate

By Victoria Schmidt, Access Team Writer

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