Love Thy Pharmacist: Prescription Drugs in Mexico Might Not Be What They Seem

If your summer travels take you south of the border into Mexico, pharmacists say you should avoid the temptation of saving a few dollars by purchasing your medications at farmacias, which sell versions of American prescription drugs made in Mexico.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) performs inspections at the pharmaceutical manufacturing plants. This quality control process ensures that active ingredients are included at correct levels and that the release rate of the medication is accurate. The FDA does not monitor pharmaceutical manufacturing plants in Mexico.

Lacy Daniels, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy in Kingsville, said that lack of oversight exposes those who purchase their prescription medications in Mexico to potentially deadly risks.

Currently, very few studies have been conducted on the quality of Mexican drugs, Dr. Daniels said. However, a study conducted by the University of Arizona in 2005 confirmed his concerns.

“Of the three medications they examined, two of them were perfectly fine in terms of the active ingredient being 100 percent of what it should be,” Dr. Daniels said. “However, the third one was an antibiotic, and the active ingredient was only present at one-tenth of the concentration it should have been. If this were used to treat a critically ill patient, the patient could have died.”

In addition to quality control measures by the FDA, Dr. Daniels said, access to pharmacists is the most valuable benefit when buying your medications in the United States.

“If you are taking several prescription drugs, one can interact with the others,” Dr. Daniels said. “If you walk into a pharmacy and just buy one prescription alone, then that pharmacist does not know what else you may be taking. In Mexico, pharmacies typically do not have a pharmacist in the building; it is a technician who knows the names of drugs. Their job is to sell. They may know something about the drug, but they don’t have the depth of knowledge to understand drug interactions and side effects.”

Source: Texas A&M Health Science Center

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