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Mexican Medications

Medications from Mexico

Many drugs approved in the USA by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are also available in Mexico, and some of them are marketed by a company with a name virtually identical to that of the supplier in the USA.   However, there are considerable differences in the range of drugs available in the two countries.

Of the total number of single active ingredient drugs available in the USA and Mexico, only about half of them are listed in both the Physician's Desk Reference (USA) and the Diccionario de Especialidades Farmacuticas (Mexico).   About one third of the total number appear to be available only in the US, and the remainder are available only in Mexico.  Of the drugs listed in both the US and the Mexican references, half of them appear to be supplied by the same drug company in both countries and most of these (but not all) have the same trade names.  Many of the drugs that are marked with different trade names and different manufacturers in the two countries are older drugs for which patents had expired and are now made in the US by generic drug manufacturers.

If you have no prescription plan or the drugs that you need are not covered by your plan, you may be tempted to buy them in Mexico, where most medications are less costly than the same product in the USA.  Cost savings for recently approved drugs in the US are usually much less than for drugs that have been on the market in the US for a long time.  Furthermore, FDA Policy strongly discourages importation of any medications.   Regulations stipulated by the FDA Policy apply to drugs from any foreign country (including Canada).

Before crossing the border for this purpose, consider the following:

1)     Talk to your prescribing physician before doing this   -  there may be reasons why the Mexican drug is not a proper substitute for the prescribed US product.  Do not buy prescription medications in Mexico without your doctor's approval. 

2)     Ask your doctor for a written prescription for the generic name of the drug, and, if possible, the Mexican trade name of that drug.  Always take prescriptions with you to Mexico and purchase no more than 3 months' supply at a time (for yourself only).  Keep the prescriptions to show to the U.S. Customs on your return (for more information check the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) site).   Legislative changes specify that the patient must provide written documentation that the drug being imported is for his own personal use, together with the name and address of the prescribing licensed doctor in the USA, or provide evidence that the drug is for continuing treatment that was begun in Mexico.   For details of the regulations, see the FDA site).   

At the US port of entry you must have kept the drugs in their original sealed containers and you must declare them.   If the Mexican trade name and the US trade name are not the same, get expert advice on the exact equivalence of the generic ingredient names.  Generic names of drugs in Mexico are similar but not exactly the same as the U.S. generic name ( for example, loratadine [U.S.] = loradatina [Mex.], and chlorpheniramine [U.S.] = clorfenamina [Mex.] ). 

3)     The trade names of a drug made by a given company for sale in different countries are often different:   for instance, fluticasone made by GlaxoSmithKline is sold as Flovent in the US and Flixotide in Mexico.

4)     Most of the large pharmaceutical companies that market drugs in the US are multinational corporations that supply the active ingredients of the medication for repackaging and sale in many countries including Mexico.   In most cases the active ingredients of the same preparations sold in the US and Mexico are identical and are claimed to be manufactured to the same international manufacturing standards of purity and consistency.  However, many of the various brands of the same drug in Mexico are not certified by the FDA to have the same quality controls as the FDA-approved US product. 

5)    Of all the drug manufacturers listed in the Physician's Desk Reference, only a small minority can be found in the Diccionario de Especialidades Farmacuticas.  Although the manufacturers common to both countries produce drugs that have the same or nearly identical brand name in both the US and Mexico, many of them also produce drugs for the Mexican market that are not approved by the FDA because of safety and efficacy issues.

6)     Be very careful to be sure that the strength of the drug that you get in Mexico is the one prescribed by your doctor.  For instance, you may be prescribed Flovent 110, but Flixotide in Mexico comes as a 50 and a 250 mcg/puff inhaler, neither one the same strength as Flovent 110.

7)     Many preparations contain additives to ensure proper delivery of the drug to the body, as well as coloring and flavoring.  These are frequently different from those used in the US preparations.  Differences in these additives and/or delivery systems may be (but not necessarily) important in determining drug safety and  efficacy.

8)    Some of the drugs available in Mexico are no longer marked in the USA.  Some of these were discontinued in the US because of new information on serious adverse effects, e. g., astemizole (Astesin in Mexico).   Some were discontinued by the manufacturers because of commercial non-viability in the US.

Diccionario de Especialidades Farmacuticas.  Thomson PLM, S.A. de C.V., Mxico D.F.  (http://www.facmed.unam.mx/bmnd/dirijo.php?bib_vv=6
Physician's Desk Reference.  Thomson Reuters, Montvale NJ. 


Disclaimer:   This site is for educational purposes only.  Any information that you have found in this web site is not intended to replace medical care or advice given to you by your own physicians. You should consider consulting your local medical library and other web sites for additional information. 

Comments and suggestions welcome!   Email: schumach@u.arizona.edu
Content Owner:  Michael J. Schumacher, MB, FRACP, The University of Arizona
Updated 2/2012