A Farmacia on Every Corner (600 Words)

If you spend any time in Mexico, it will soon become clear that there are a lot of pharmacies here. In a city you may find more than one on a block, perhaps even three or four. Even in the countryside, there will typically be several pharmacies in a small town. They may even have one that is open for 24 hours, although you may have to bang on the door at four in the morning to wake the pharmacist up. Most medications, with the exception of narcotics and recently, antibiotics, are available without a prescription and you can have a taxi driver pick up medications and deliver them to you if you are too ill to go yourself.

There are basically two kinds of farmacias, those that are allowed to dispense prescribed narcotics and those that are not. By far the overwhelming numbers are the later group. And these will vary from the tiniest storefront with a little counter and one pharmacist to Sanborns, the upscale pharmacy with departments selling everything from boxes of candy to clothing, magazines and the latest music CDs.

Many pharmacies have medical “consultarios” next door, where for 25 or 30 pesos you can have a typically fresh-out-of-medical-school doctor look at your throat, take your temperature, check your blood pressure and write you several prescriptions that you can have filled for a few dollars at the pharmacy. In fact, there is an industry phenomena in Mexico—generic medications—sold by a chain of pharmacies knows as “Farmacia Similares.” Their mascot, often found dancing to upbeat music in an oversized costume, is “Doctor Simi,” a familiar figure who is loved by children and adults alike.

In Mexico it is common for people to consult a pharmacist when they are ill before they see a private physician, partly because pharmacists do dispense based on their own evaluation or because the patient wants a certain medicine, and partly because the pharmacist is free or the affiliated consultario is low cost. But reliance on medications is a long-standing tradition in Mexico.

When the Spaniards arrived, there was already a vast body of knowledge about medicinal plants among indigenous peoples in Mexico. The Aztec identified and used about 400 different herbal remedies and recorded many of these in their codices, book-like written and illustrated records. This tradition continues, both in the sense that many of these remedies are still used in the countryside and it is common to find people selling herbs as remedies in the marketplace—and in wide proliferation of the modern-day farmacia.

Of course, the dark side of this tradition is that the easy access to medications leads to self-diagnosis and self-prescribing with the erratic results you might expect. I recently visited a friend who was hospitalized by a physician after he had received “treatments” at pharmacy-affiliated consultarios for the following infections: eye, stomach, throat, diarrhea, jock itch and what seemed to be a serious inflammation of the leg. When he finally was seen by a private physician, more dead than alive, he was immediately hospitalized where he remained for five days for a life-threatening thrombosis, followed by nearly two months of bed rest.

So the lesson is: for anything more serious than a sneeze or a bug bite, it is a good idea to see a physician who isn’t working for a pharmacy.

See post here: http://www.mexperience.com/blog/?p=1858