Magazine article Drug Topics

Shopping for Drugs in Tijuana: A First-Hand Account

Magazine article Drug Topics

Shopping for Drugs in Tijuana: A First-Hand Account

Article excerpt

Drugs from a farmacia? Maybe. Advice from a farmacia? No. Drug prices can be an average of two-thirds cheaper when one crosses the border from San Diego to Tijuana. My experience was that while drug costs dropped, so did the quality of the pharmacy's counsel.

That's not completely fair. I cannot definitively judge the advice of the clerks in the pharmacy, because I do not speak Spanish, and of the three pharmacies I patronized, in only one case did someone understand English.

A half-hour trolley ride will take you from downtown San Diego to the Mexican border for $1.75. After that, the choice is yours as to whether you want to walk, take a Mexican bus, or hail a taxi to a Tijuana pharmacy. On your way back across the border, if you are on foot, expect to quickly pass through Customs without much more than a passing glance. If you are in a car, however, you can be in for a much slower crossing, running up to an hour or more during busy times. On a recent Saturday, I took a taxi at the border and, for a flat fee of $5, was taken to Revolucion Ave., the main shopping district. Here in the heart of the tourist district, I thought I would get an English-speaker. However, none of the three young persons were able to comprehend my condition in the first pharmacy I visited. I was originally enticed into the store by the "21 % off ALL drugs" printed on brightly colored star-shaped ads pasted to the window, much like a supermarket in the United States.

I found, however, that even though the window ads were in English, there was no guarantee that anyone inside could speak English.

Seeking help for a noticeable blemish on my nose, I had earlier that day been assured by a nurse at my San Diego health maintenance organization that the best treatment would be soap and water to keep it clean. She also said not to use sun block on the affected area.

I asked for advice about the same problem from the three women who appeared to be simply clerks, without any pharmaceutical training. However, I'll never know, because they barely spoke any English. After much gesturing, blank stares, and halfremembered high school Spanish, I was able to reach some sort of understanding. (Here's a tip: "Pimpleo" is not Spanish for blemish).

I was given a Mexican-made topical corticosteroid called "Synalar Simple," a 1 % fluocinonide cream by Syntex, S.A. I would need a prescription to buy it in San Diego, for perhaps twice the cost. Paying $3.13, after the 21% "rebaja," I left the corner pharmacy, which was typical in that many of the products are displayed in glass cases much like jewelry in a jewelry store. Walking further down Revolucion, past the beggars, club barkers, and leatherware merchants, I went into another of the dozen or so pharmacies on the street. Again, I was enticed by small ads in the window, advertising price breaks on ampicillin, nicotine gum, and "geriatric" drugs.

I walked into a hotel lobby where the small pharmacy had its own little counter and space to one side. Probably very convenient for the few elderly American tourists staying there who came to Mexico to buy drugs. However, the tourists declined to be interviewed.

As for the pharmacy's being in a hotel lobby, such a juxtaposition of businesses is not uncommon in Mexico. One of the larger pharmacies had not only a pharmacy and gifts, but an inviting patio bar on the side. The pairing of restaurants and pharmacies seemed most common.

I tried again to explain my problem to a young woman clerk who did not speak English. After more futile gesturing, I simply pointed to the blemish on my nose. …

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