Rising and often out-of-reach prescription drug prices have motivated people to consider the pros and cons of comparison shopping—in other countries. But, is it safe to buy your prescriptions from a Mexican pharmacy?
Potential dangers of buying prescription drugs abroad
Buying prescription drugs abroad can save you money, but there are risks to keep in mind, says Warren Licht, MD, director of medical affairs at Lenox Health Greenwich Village, who has experience in international travel medicine.
“Drugs sold in other countries are not necessarily held to the same standards that the regulatory agencies in the United States hold both distributors and manufacturers to,” he says.
This could mean that you end up with the wrong dosage and/or active ingredient, even if the medicine appears to be the one your doctor has prescribed. You could also end up in the dark about a drug recall if you purchased your medicine at a foreign pharmacy.
“We’ve had problems with our own very regulated manufacturing process in the United States, where drugs had traces of carcinogens and were recalled,” Dr. Licht says. “If a drug is recalled in another country, you might not even know about it.”
Some Mexican pharmacies might be okay
There’s reason to believe that prescription medication from some Mexican pharmacies in towns close to the American border may actually be both affordable and safe. In fact, a health insurer in Utah incentivized members to buy certain prescription drugs at a contracted clinic in Tijuana in an effort to reduce costs.
“Pharmaceutical companies sell the same products in Mexico for lower prices, then have the nerve to tell Americans that these products are not safe. It doesn’t make sense,” says Kyle Varner, MD, a physician who gets medication and healthcare services in Mexico. Mexico does big business in pharmaceuticals, and has a financial incentive in offering high-quality, authentic medications, explains Dr. Varner.
“The pharmacies will have medication in the original packaging from the manufacturer, and there’s not a lot of room for error on the part of the pharmacist,” he says.
According to Dr. Varner, as long as you know exactly what medication you’re looking for and exactly where to find a legitimate pharmacy, buying prescription drugs in Mexico could save you money.
Buying prescription drugs in Mexico
Find a pharmacy you trust: If you’re considering buying prescription drugs over the border, make sure to buy them from licensed, established pharmacies—not random individuals who may try to sell you medicine outside of those places.
Don’t buy medicine without your doctor’s approval: Always—it’s worth repeating: ALWAYS—listen to your doctor’s recommendations for prescription medication. Even though other medications may be available for sale without a prescription, they could harm your health.
Be careful about what you bring back: U.S. Customs and Border Protection has strict rules about bringing medicine across the border. Generally, three-month supplies of some prescriptions accompanied by a note from your doctor are acceptable, explains Dr. Varner. “But don’t even think about it for controlled substances, like pain medication,” he warns. “They can charge you with drug trafficking.”
Mexican pharmacy online
If you’re not planning a trip abroad, can you order prescriptions from Mexico? It’s a common question—and can seem much easier than traveling across the border. With medications seemingly just a click away, it can be tempting to just hit order, then wait and see. But, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends against buying prescriptions from other countries because the regulation of drug manufacturing may be more lax, or the pharmacy may be a fake. And, if you order without a prescription your package could be seized.
If you do decide to order prescriptions from a Mexican pharmacy online, make sure to follow the FDA recommendations. Check into licensure, and look for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s (NABP) Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites™ Seal, also known as the VIPPS® Seal.