Here’s The Low Down On Mexican Pharmacies

Good deals can still be had if you look, but the days of cheap and plentiful happy pills are over
BY: ELLIS DEE

For many years it was possible for tourists and locals alike to procure controlled substances here in Mexico. This country was like an open medicine cabinet with cheap and easy access.

In the late 1980´s, a person could find Percodan for sale over the counter in 10-count glass vials for a buck. And in local mini-marts, no less. Of course, at that time, the exchange rate was $1 USD to 3,000 pesos. Even better.

That all changed when Carlos Salinas was elected president of Mexico for a six year term beginning in 1988. He declared that Mexico was no longer going to be Americans’ drug dealer. Shortly after he was elected the happy pill connection was shut down and we all needed a prescription from a licensed physician. Any pharmacist dispensing such substances without the proper documentation was subject to loss of license, fines and/or jail sentence. In August 2010, the Mexican government further cracked down on pharmacies selling antibiotics without a prescription.

The drugs most often abused were pain killers such as Vicodin, anabolic steroids, seizure medications such as Ativan and tranquilizers like Valium and Darvon. These drugs are still available in Mexico, sometimes under different names, but must now be purchased through prescription. However, let’s face it, there are many doctors here who are loose with their prescription pad and it doesn’t take much to track those docs down.

Every pharmacy has the Physicians Desk Reference, a big fat book of every drug made, and its Latin name and all of the generic names for it in every country. So if you ask for something you’ve been prescribed in the States, you may be offered a bottle of pills with a completely different name but is the same thing. If you ask to see the book for yourself, you should have confidence that the pharmacy clerk is giving you what you are asking for.

In most cases you will save a lot of money buying here, but be careful, the pharmacies in the tourist areas jack up the prices a lot. A lot. Drive into the barrio and pay Mexican prices, not sucker American prices. And don’t buy within a mile of the cruise ships, those are the target of these robber drug stores. Best bet is buy at WalMart or Costco, as those stores are geared toward locals.

However, your insurance isn’t going to be buying your drugs for you in Mexico, so in comparing prices, you need to know just how much your net cost for the drug is after insurance picks up part of your tab. That difference can be the deal killer.

There are basically two classes of pharmacies in Mexico: Segunda clase, those outlets licensed to dispense drugs such as antibiotics, blood pressure medications, insulin, and Primera clase, those dispensaries with permits to sell the controlled  substances. i.e., addictive or subject to abuse like oxycodone, valium, ribavarin. These drugs are rigidly controlled in the United States (prescriptions there are written on triplicate forms and subject to government scrutiny), and somewhat likewise in Mexico. Somewhat being the operative word here.

If you expect to see a pharmacist in a white coat behind the counter, forget it, because that rarely happens. Mexican pharmacies do not have to have a pharmacist onboard. Or rather they don’t have to have one on the premises. You are dealing with a $700 a month no nothing clerk. Yes, a pharmacy needs to have a license hanging on the wall, but the person on the license need not be on the premisses. Often one licensed pharmacist has plaques hanging on a half dozen walls and merely collects a check from each location. 

Having established availability, the question becomes: Which is the most economical source?  The Similares chain is everywhere; they specialize in generic equivalents at a reduced price, and often have their own physician in an adjacent office to diagnose symptoms and prescribe the appropriate remedies. It’s kind of a walk in clinic and can be very handy. No, you can’t snow them into giving you some oxyies, Similares is a legitimate business.

 All the big chain retailers (Costco, Walmart, Soriana, Calimax, Comercial Mexicana) have their own in-house pharmacies as well. Where to go for the best price? Compare these examples. They are   converted at the exchange rate of 16.5 pesos per 1 USD):

Levitra Vardenafil 20 mg 4 capsules:

MedsMex $98.21 USD

Comercial Mexicana: $46.25

Costco: $47.41

Walmart: $46.00

Vesicare Solifenacin 10 mg 30 tablets

Similares: $88.49

Costco: $64.18

Walmart: $73.27

Comercial Mexicana: $66.51

Soriana: $62.19

Cosmo’s: $65.27

Oxytetracycline Hydrochloride 500 mg 32 capsules

Cosmo’s: $17.70

Similares: $3.16

Ativan Lorazepam 2 mg 40 tablets

MedsMex: $125.00

Farmacias Suprema: $75.18

Costco: $41.47

Virizide Ribavarin generic 400 mg 18 capsules

MedsMex $59.40

Cosmo’s: $63.27

Similares substitutions must account for variance in quantity and dosage.

On-line ratings for MedsMex ranged from horrendous to superlative.