Originally created 06/20/00

Age old question: Cheaper medications can be difficult to get



Q: Are prescription drugs cheaper in Mexico? - J.J., Keysville, Ga.

A: Crossing the border for medications may be worth your while if you are planning a trip to Mexico this year. If you have not planned to visit Mexico, however, your travel costs may well exceed any savings on medication.

Several recent news stories have described how medi cations are cheaper in Mexico and Canada. One concern generally not mentioned, however, is that the process is much more taxing than a trip to a local pharmacy. You must decide if the savings are worth the effort involved.

To purchase prescriptions in Mexico, you must have a prescription from a Mexican doctor. The prescription you got from your doctor is not valid there.

The good news is this prescription can be written at the time the order is filled. Be sure to get a copy, though. The customs officials will ask to see a copy when you return to the United States.

Up north, special chartered buses make regular trips to Canada to refill seniors' medications. In Mexico and Canada, you may only receive medications for the person listed on the prescription. Don't expect to stock up on Cousin Ed's blood pressure pills or Grandma Susie's allergy medication.

In addition, you may only purchase quantities for personal use. More than a 90-day supply would be considered excessive and could be confiscated by Customs. Scheming entrepreneurs are not welcome to stock up and resell to friends and family members at higher prices in the United States.

The push to find cheaper medications was aided by a report by U.S. Rep. Thomas H. Allen. The Maine Democrat found that seniors in the United States pay nearly twice what prescriptions cost in Mexico and Canada.

His report tracked 10 popular medications and found that, on average, U.S. medications cost 72 percent more than those sold in Canada and 102 percent more than those sold in Mexico.

It is important to remember, however, that these savings may not come without a cost in the long run. Even if you win a trip to Mexico, you may be compromising your health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that medications sold in Mexico have not been tested under the same strict standards as medications sold in the United States. The purity and potency of these medications cannot be compared to that of those sold in the United States.

If you plan to check out the savings, remember to declare all imported medications upon your return to this country. Keep all medications in the original containers and remember to keep copies of the prescription in your carry-on bag for convenience.

If you have a question or would like more information, write to Shirley McIntosh, Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30909.