Seniors Line Up in Different Mexican Drug Trade

Seniors Line Up in Different Mexican Drug Trade
Posted by FoM on February 22, 2000 at 10:50:31 PT
By Dorsey Griffith, Sacramento Bee 
Source: Arizona Daily Star
They start streaming into Mexico at 7 a.m., wearing shorts, T-shirts and sun visors. Some cross the border in wheelchairs, others carry oxygen tanks over their shoulders. They come for fun, yes. They also come for dental work, for eye glasses. But mostly, they come for prescription drugs. In this boisterous border town near Yuma, Liqui's Pharmacy is often their first stop. 
Touted as "The Pharmacy of the New Millennyum," young men lure elderly customers into the store with promises of free Viagra and sales clerks offer shoppers tips on how to avoid scrutiny by U.S. customs inspectors. Once enticed inside, seniors on Medicare can find bargains on drugs for everything from heart disease and asthma to arthritis and impotence before moving on to haggle for trinkets, sip margaritas or dance the afternoon away in the plaza. "It's eat, drink and be merry," said Myrlane Powell of Fair Oaks, Calif., who said she and her husband, Lavar, buy drugs and sunglasses in Algodones. "It's warm down here, and there is nothing but old people." Watching the circus from a bench outside Liqui's, 77-year-old Rose Cooper of Oakhurst, Calif.; held a yellow plastic bag filled with medicines for heart trouble, gout, menopausal symptoms and other conditions. The retired beautician and her 86-year-old husband, John, live on monthly $1,200 Social Security checks. She said stocking up on medicine in Mexico is a matter of survival: "I wouldn't be doing this if I had any help from Medicare." A third of the 40 million seniors and disabled Americans on Medicare pay out of pocket for all prescription drugs and can save thousands of dollars annually if they buy them over the border, where U.S. government warnings about the potential hazards of buying and importing drugs from Mexico go largely unheeded. Prescriptions from U.S. physicians aren't required. Most seniors simply bring along a list of the brand-name or generic drugs they want and in what quantity and present it to the sales clerk. And while shoppers swarm the counters at Liqui's like children buying Pokemon cards, political leaders in Washington are butting heads over how to give Medicare recipients a drug benefit so that seniors won't need places like Algodones to keep their maladies under control. Blasting the high drug prices seniors face, President Clinton has called for a Medicare drug benefit as part of a 10-year, $168 billion expenditure. Democrats and Republicans are offering their own reform packages. But seniors such as Norman Smith of Branson, Mo., aren't holding their breath. Patting the smorgasbord of drugs he and his wife purchased at Liqui's, the 74-year-old remarked with a smirk and a wink: "You know, Clinton is going to take care of this." American and Canadian retirees congregate in dusty RV parks every winter in and around Yuma, six miles from Algodones. They drive to a nearby Indian reservation, park their cars, then walk across the border. Even before they enter Algodones, visitors are handed fliers advertising "special prices" on drugs and two-hour service for eyeglasses. Neither pesos nor Spanish are required. They walk - no questions asked - past a Mexican border guard and are quickly funneled onto crowded sidewalks, sharing space with vendors of leather cowboy belts and knock-off designer purses, plaster donkeys and striped sarapes amid the barker-like banter of prescription drug peddlers. Few can avoid Liqui's Hector Lopez, who shocks, cajoles and uses humor to entice passers-by into the tidy pharmacy packed floor to ceiling with prescription drugs, lotions, perfumes and other specialty items, such as pure Mexican vanilla. "How about you sir?" he said. "You look terrible. You sure you don't need something from the pharmacy?" To another man walking with his wife, he shouted, "I got a free sample of Viagra for you. How can you go to the war without bullets?" One morning, Lopez snared Marilyn and Donald Haugen of Northfield, Minn., known for its cows, colleges and contentment, with the line: "Welcome to Viagraland." First-timers, the pair were flabbergasted to find they would pay about half as much for asthma medicine and estrogen in Algodones as they would with their discount through an HMO policy that supplements their Medicare benefit. Haugen found her hormone replacement drug, Prempro, for $13.50 for a month's supply, $8.50 less than the co-payment she pays in Northfield. Her brief transaction with the Liqui's clerk went like this: "How many can we buy?" "As many as you want." "Will you take a check?" "Yes." "Oh my God." Haugen was giddy when she left. "I can't believe this," she said. "We'll have more than enough (in savings) to pay for gas and motels driving home." Elnora Crow, 77, of Washington paid 25 cents per pill for Lodine, the medicine she takes for rheumatism. She pays $1.35 per pill - more than five times as much - for it in the United States. Several Medicare bills under consideration in Washington include prescription drug benefits, but legislators say major reform could be years away. Pharmaceutical companies caution that any plan to control drug prices will cripple their ability to develop drug therapies. In the meantime, Liqui's owner, 34-year-old Hector Cha, is cashing in on the tens of thousands of other Americans without drug coverage. He and his 32-year-old brother, Pancho, who runs a second pharmacy across the street, benefit from Mexican government price controls on American-made pharmaceuticals, scads of foreign customers and inexpensive labor. The Chas are relative newcomers to Algodones. Dentist Bernardo Magana sparked the trend after opening a tiny dental office in 1969 when the town was nothing but "cantinas, girls and dogs in the streets," he said. Soon Yuma residents discovered they could get good, low-cost dental care just over the border and a health care industry was born. Today, the small town's business district extends five square blocks and features about 20 pharmacies, 45 dentists, five optometrists and 15 doctors. Rarely are appointments required, and the dentists and optometrists have on-site or nearby laboratories that can make a crown or a pair of trifocals in just hours. Americans who patronize Algodones rave about the quality, cost and convenience of the Mexican services. "I am the type who will not go to the dentist unless I am in extreme pain," said Butch Koretz of Yuma, who was getting a root canal with a gold inlay crown for $500. "I have never been in any pain here." The Cha brothers say their pharmacy business is successful because they are honest, friendly and offer products identical to those found in the United States, for a lot less. "This is not just, 'Give me the money, here are the pills,"' said Pancho Cha. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food and drug imports, worries that American consumers could be putting themselves at risk buying drugs in foreign countries that may be counterfeit, contain dangerous ingredients or have been subject to substandard storage or transportation practices. FDA spokesman Brad Stone could not cite specific cases or quantify the problem, however. "We can't be your doctor and we can't be your big brother," Stone said. "If you are bound and determined to get (prescription drugs), chances are at some point you can. But be aware you are putting yourself or loved ones at risk because we can't vouch for the safety of these products." Most of the Americans who shop in the Mexican pharmacies look for the names of major drug manufacturers on the labels, which helps assure them of their authenticity. The drugs are usually sold in sealed packages, not in pharmacy containers. The FDA has rules about individual importation of prescription drugs, but the agency leaves it up to U.S. Customs to enforce them. Customs inspectors are supposed to see that individuals import only FDA-approved drugs; that the drugs are only for the person who purchased them; that they have no more than a 90-day supply of any one medicine; and that they have a prescription signed by a doctor. But these rules appear easy to skirt. As one of the sales clerks at Liqui's told a woman buying up to 10 months worth of drugs for herself and her husband, "When you cross the border, just say you have a three-month's supply of medicine for yourself." For customers who want a prescription in writing, in case Customs asks to see it, the clerk simply lists the medicines purchased on a pad presigned by an Algodones doctor who rarely meets the patient face-to-face. Dr. Sanchez Diaz, who runs a tiny clinic a couple of blocks away, said he signs the prescriptions for Liqui's because they occasionally send him patients. Most of those referred to Diaz are people who want one of the few types of drugs that require a prescription directly from a doctor in Mexico, such as narcotics and anti-depressants. It's a practice that disturbs U.S. pharmacists, who say seniors have enough trouble keeping track of their medications, let alone those with information written in Spanish. "It's too easy to get medication down there," said Yuma pharmacist Tom Burrell. "These people (dispensing drugs) often are not pharmacists so they have no idea how drug interactions occur." Diaz recognizes the risks, but said he isn't bothered that his name is on prescriptions given to folks he knows nothing about. "When we are equal to the U.S., and you have to go to the doctor for penicillin, we will be valued more. But this is how Mexico is." Algodones, Mexico Published: February 22, 2000The Arizona Daily Star Online - Tuesday, 22 February 2000 
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Comment #1 posted by bob on August 14, 2001 at 11:34:49 PT:
accuretic 20mg/12.5mg
where can i buy this....and what price?
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