Yesterday I wrote about how inexpensive it is to buy medications in Peru and how you don’t need a prescription for most drugs (apart from narcotics and amphetamines). This system made it easier and more affordable for us to care for my dad with Alzheimer’s while we lived in Lima.
Today I’m going to share a few tips on how to purchase medicines at a Lima pharmacy. These tips are aimed at people who are not Peruvian, especially those whose first language is English.
You know, I’m starting to get more emails from Americans wanting to know how we cared for my father in Peru and wondering if such a move is right for them. Some people who query me have never been to Latin America and, more critically, don’t speak Spanish. They want to know if it’s “necessary” to learn the language in order to get good care there for their loved ones.
The bottom line is, yes, you must speak at least intermediate-level Spanish to be able to coordinate care south of the border. There is no way around that. You’ll need to communicate effectively with caregivers, doctors, and–here’s the point that I was coming to in this post–with pharmacists and people who work at pharmacies.
Peruvian society is very people-oriented and service-oriented, which means you must negotiate transactions face to face, not with a computer or automated check-out service.
Moreover, Peruvian pharmacies and drug stores aren’t like their counterparts in the United States. They don’t have aisle upon aisle of products where customers wander and choose their own items such as aspirin and tampons. In most Peruvian drug stores, you have to walk up to a counter and ask someone there to fetch the item (product or medication) that you want from the shelves behind them. So, you need to be able to make requests in Spanish and pronounce each product’s name correctly.
Here’s how the process works when ordering a medication, regardless of whether you are a Peruvian citizen, a naturalized Peruvian, or just a tourist:
If you have the doctor’s receta (prescription), you can hand that to the clerk, but be forewarned: Sometimes the pharmacist can’t read the doctor’s handwriting, so you’ll need to say it and be precise with the dosage. (That happened to us.)
If you don’t have a prescription, but you know what drug and dosage you need, you will have to do an additional piece of research before visiting the pharmacy: You’ll need to find out the chemical name of the drug or its equivalent in Spanish. Latin American pharmaceutical companies make generics for the local market, and unlike in the United States, they don’t usually put the brand name in parentheses on the label.
For instance, Zoloft (chemical name in English, Sertraline hydrochloride) is sold in Peru as the generic Sertralina. When I checked prices in May 2018, a 100 mg pill of Sertralina was selling for between 0.81 and 1.24 Peruvian soles (US 25 cents to 38 cents) each in Peruvian pharmacies. (For price comparison, the same pill costs around US$6.70 each at CVS Pharmacies without a prescription.)
To find drug names and current prices at Peruvian pharmacies, go online to Peru’s Health Ministry site and enter the name of the drug as you know it, then click Consultar. A list will pop up showing the per-unit price of the drug at various drug stores.(See the image at the top of this post.)
If the medication does not show up, just google “what is the name of X in Spanish?” and you’ll get an answer.
To sum up, ordering medications in Peru is much cheaper and easier than it is in the United States, provided that you know the medicine’s name in Spanish. This can simplify caregiving because you don’t have to continually run to the doctor’s office to get a new prescription; instead, you simply bring the bottle and reorder from the label, provided that your loved one doesn’t need a different dosage.
Of course, it is possible to abuse this system, and this blog post isn’t advocating that people drop everything and rush down to Lima to buy stashes of Zoloft and Viagra. Medications need to be responsibly prescribed, dispensed, and taken.
Overall, it was good to be free of Big Pharma in Peru, and it definitely made caring for my father there a whole lot simpler.