Part 2, Low Cost of Medications in Peru–Ordering in Spanish

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.Continue Reading

Low-cost Medications Are a Bonus for Caregivers in Peru

A customer buys medications in Nortfarma, a Peruvian pharmacy; prices are fixed by a national ministry, and stores that overcharge are fined. (photo: Andina)

In other posts, I’ve written about how affordable home-health aides are in Lima, a benefit that greatly helped our family when caring for my American father in Peru.

Today I want to share another bonus of caregiving in Lima: how medications are sold and dispensed. The Latin American system is so different than the for-profit model used in the United States, it’s shocking–and I mean that in a good way.

Basically, consumers at a Peruvian pharmacy can get almost any medication they want for about 70% less than what it would cost in the United States–without a doctor’s prescription. This savings applies only drugs that are no longer under patent and which are currently manufactured by several companies or as generics. New medications under patent are still full price.

For instance, the memory drug Excelon was still under patent when my father was taking it in 2011, so we had to pay full price (more than US$100 a month) for it in Lima. However, the eight other medications he took daily (Omeprazol, Sertraline, etc.) were available in generic form, and we ended up spending about US$80 a month for all of them together.

The savings were considerable, so we didn’t need his US insurance to cover drug costs. (His prescription plan  didn’t work down in Peru anyway).

I know that some readers are still stuck on that phrase in the third paragraph–“without a doctor’s prescription.”

Yes, that’s right. With the exception of certain drugs (see below), medications are freely dispensed in pharmacies sin receta (without a prescription), and overall, this works to the consumer’s favor in Peru, apart from the hazards of self-medicating. People do go to doctors and get prescriptions, but they aren’t necessary for initial purchase. And this system makes it much easier when you are a caregiver to an elderly person and you have to keep up with lots of refills.

Here is how the ordering process works:

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