Seniors find deals in Mexico

April 29, 2007|By GREG HOLT, Staff Writer
  • CUAUHTEMOC BELTRAN PHOTO A list of pharmaceutical drugs is posted outside a Los Algodones pharmacy.

Wandering through the aisles in a Los Algodones pharmacy, Brigitte Mack was like a kid in a candy store.

Pulling items off the racks left and right, Mack, a 65-year-old Wisconsin native, seemed perpetually amazed by the low-cost medications available in Mexico.

“I come here once a year all the way from Kenosha and the savings make it well worth the trip,” said Mack as she studied an herbal medication made from prickly pear cactus. “Even though I have medical insurance, I’m still able to save $1,000 a year if I buy my drugs here.”

This small border town of about 5,000 residents becomes a bustling marketplace during the day as seniors from the U.S. and Canada crowd into the pharmacies, dental offices and souvenir shops stacked against each other along the downtown avenues.

The savings offered by pharmacies in Mexico makes a real difference in the lives of many seniors. By any measure, Americans have the most expensive prescription drugs in the world, and the medications consumed by many seniors can cost thousands of dollars a year.


Pearl Pace traveled to Los Algodones on a bus tour from Desert Hot Springs in the Coachella Valley. Now retired, Pace said she lives on a relatively fixed income and is glad she has the opportunity to cut her prescription drug costs in half by taking a trip south of the border.

“My eye drops cost $53 a bottle back home, but here it only costs $26. That’s quite a savings,” Pace said. “What you find here isn’t just as good — it’s the exact same thing.”

Bus tours like the one that brought Pace to Los Algodones run every day back and forth from popular retirement areas like Palm Desert and Scottsdale, Ariz. Prescription drugs are the hottest seller, but the shopping doesn’t end there.

“They have great Mexican food and bargains on lotion, beauty products, brandy, tequila, cigarettes — you name it,” Escondido resident Connie Sennewald said.

According to the Center for Pharmacoeconomic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, American consumers buy $800 million worth of prescription drugs in Mexico every year.

In Los Algodones, the biggest game in town is The Purple Store, a pharmacy so massive that it operates on both sides of the same street.

“These medications are very important to the health of our American customers. We have the generic medications that they can afford because they are so expensive in the U.S.,” said Cecilia Martinez, spokeswoman for The Purple Store owners Grupo Liquis.

Even if you don’t have a prescription for the medication you are trying to buy, The Purple Store has you covered.

“We have nurses in the store so you can tell them your symptoms, and they will write you a prescription,” Martinez said.

Although it’s illegal to buy any prescription drugs in Mexico without one, in practice, a prescription is only requested when a drug has a known recreational popularity, such as with Vicodin and OxyContin.

Still, several vendors were openly offering these drugs to anyone of a younger age group that walked by on the Los Algodones sidewalks.

The U.S. Surgeon General has cautioned against buying prescription drugs in Mexico because there is no regulatory authority like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration south of the border.

Pat Shaw said she’s not dissuaded by the warnings. The Surprise, Ariz., native traveled to Los Algodones to buy her asthma inhalers for $230 each. They cost $680 each in the U.S., she said.

“As long as you tell the customs agents at the border that it’s only a three-month supply and it’s all for yourself, they won’t give you any problems,” Shaw said.

>> Staff Writer Greg Holt can be reached at 337-3452 or

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