Understanding Drugs in MX

The distribution of pharmaceuticals is quite different from the systems in the US and Canada.  There are very few drugs for which a prescription is needed.  Antibiotics and controlled substances are two that require a prescription.

Few pharmacies have a certified pharmacist on site, and fewer still have staff trained and knowledgeable in the products they are handling.  If you have questions regarding what medications your doctor has specified for you, ask to speak to the pharmacist.  If one isn’t available, it is strongly advised that you to find a pharmacy with a pharmacist before purchasing your medications.

Do not allow anyone to substitute a brand or compound of your specified medication.  Similar compounds are not the same, and could create more health problems than resolve.  While a different compound may work, the same dosage of the different compound may be too much or not enough for the condition.  The different compound may present potentially serious interactions with other medications that you are taking.

Many of the generic pharmacies may have less expensive medications, and they may not be the same medication as requested or prescribed by your doctor.  Many of the medications prescribed in your home country are found in Mexico, but frequently under different names. Doctors and pharmacies may not have information about potential drug interactions.  Please refer to  the Drug Safety and Health Page for informative websites to aid you with determining your medication needs.

Understanding Drugs in Mexico

One of the Major healthcare problems in Mexico is the self-prescribing of medicines.  Currently, almost all medicine is sold without a prescription in Mexico, except for antibiotics, antidepressants and medications for nervous disorders.  As a result, medicines are sold indiscriminately, and some—specifically antibiotics—have become less effective. Most of the personnel in pharmacies are not qualified to recommend any medication for any problem as they have no medical or pharmaceutical training.  Nor do they have any understanding of potential drug interactions and contraindications.  Depending on the medication advice of a pharmaceutical clerk or even a licensed pharmacist may jeopardize your health and possibly your life.

No Antibiotics Without a Prescription

On May 27, 2010 the Diario Oficial published the statement issued by the Secretaría de Salud (Federal Health Department) that starting August 23 2010 no antibiotics will be sold without a prescription.  Prescriptions for antibiotics can be refilled as many times as the doctor prescribes, but once the prescription runs out the farmacia will not honor it.  Antibiotics should be taken until all the pills are gone.  To stop taking your medication at your own discretion just because you’re feeling better may support your developing a resistance to antibiotics.
Generic Medicines and the Question of the “Similar” A summary of  an article in the Journal of Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico (CINVESTAV) Enero-Marzo 2006. The Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute “was created in 1961 by presidential decree as a public agency.(http://www.cinvestav.mx) Farmacias Similares is a chain of drug stores started in 1997.  Victor González Torres, the owner of this chain, is the great grandson of the founder of Laboratorios Best, a company established in 1950 to provide low cost generics to the IMSS system.  There were about 50 Mexico-based companies, most small, manufacturing for the public sector health services.  Torres saw the opportunity to provide low-cost drugs to the general population and shifted the focus of his pharmaceutical products away from the public health sector.  These companies produced generic pharmaceuticals, meaning that the active substance is identical to that contained in the brand name.  They would purchase the active ingredient from foreign and domestic suppliers, or in the case of Farmacias Similares, produced their own to some extent.  In support of low-cost pharmaceuticals, in 1998 the Secretaria de Salud required that public sector physicians prescribe the active substance of the drug rather than the brand name.  This decree had huge economic benefits to companies and the population, and also served to break down pharmaceutical monopolies.  This also encouraged the emphasis on basic pharmacology in medical schools, rather than teaching students to think in terms of brand names. Understanding the TerminologyPatented or Brand Named Drugs are those drugs receiving patents and produced as original.  When patents expire, the drug can then be manufactured by other companies as generics.
Generics are drugs manufactured with the identical active ingredient but the carrying agents and other components may be different.  There were initial regulatory provisions for medicamentos genéricos, those packaged for the public sector and labeled only with the name of the active substance, and genéricos de marca, those with the brand name of the manufacturing company.  Generally speaking the later were for sale through company pharmacy chains.  More recently the regulatory category of genérico intercambiable (interchangeable generic) was enacted.  This last category not only must have the identical active ingredient, and be absorbed by human bodies in the same what and the same rate at the original.  This absorption rate is called its “biodisponibilidad” or “bioavailability” and must meet very strict standards.  Medicamentos genéricos do not need to meet these same bioavailability standards. Similar drugs enjoy an implicit endorsement by the Secretaria de Salud allowing pharmaceuticals to be marketed under such a name.   There is no official regulatory category for similares.  Farmacia Similares contends that there is no such thing as a “similar drug”, that Similares is a commercial name and not a type of pharmaceutical.  They further contend that their products are actually generic, while others familiar with the science of pharmacology argue that a “similar” drug has the same biological activity as the patented original but is not based on the same active compound.
To cross check names on medications from the US or Canada with the Mexican equivalent for both patented and generic The Cross Reference website  is very useful.

Source:  Atención, June 11-17, 2010

Prescription Drug Cross Reference Site – Provides Mexican counterparts for US and Canadian drug brands
Prescription Drug Information
Drug interaction Resource
Drug and Disease Information
Pill Identification Resource
Worst Pills, Best Pills – An easy-to-understand guide to several hundred drugs, their adverse reactions and potential serious interactions. By multiple authors and contributors.

Farmacias Especializadas – A subscriber-based Mexican website providing information on and access to many difficult to find medications.  Consult with your doctor before ordering from this site as compounding may be different from your prescribed medication.