Buying Prescription Drugs in Mexico

Know the Risks of Buying Prescription Drugs Across the Border

A discount pharmacy in Tijuana, Mexico

Omar Bárcena / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

For years many Arizonans, Californians, New Mexicans, and Texans with convenient access to Mexican border towns have made the trip across the various borders to buy prescribed drugs.

Why Do People Go to Mexico to Buy Prescription Drugs?

There are basically only three reasons why people would consider going to Mexico to purchase their prescription drugs.

  • Some prescription drugs are cheaper in Mexico than they are in the United States.
  • Some drugs may be difficult to get locally.
  • Some drugs that require a prescription in the U.S. are sold over the counter in Mexico.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to buy prescription drugs in Mexico, if you are considering making the trip there are some important things you ought to know.

Is It Illegal Under U.S. Laws?

The interstate shipment including importation of unapproved new drugs is prohibited in the U.S. "Unapproved" drugs are any medicines that have not received the FDA's approval and include foreign-made versions of U.S.-approved drugs.

Controlled substances including, but not limited to, tranquilizers and painkillers, are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

In either case, the import of a personal supply of any drug brought over the border must be declared to U.S. Customs, and you should have a valid prescription from a U.S doctor with you. The prescription must be in your own name.

Is It Illegal Under Mexican Laws?

Some drugs, including controlled substances, may not be purchased in Mexico without a valid prescription from a Mexican doctor. Other laws may also apply.

Know the Risks

  • Drugs you purchase in Mexico may be counterfeit. The FDA estimates that a significant amount of drugs, possibly as much as 40% of the drugs available in Mexico, may be counterfeit (Source: FDA Initiative to Combat Counterfeit Drugs).
  • Check to make sure you are dealing with a licensed pharmacy. Mexican pharmacy employees may not have any medical training.
  • If the drugs you purchase in Mexico are worthless or do you harm, you may have difficulty resolving your complaint.
  • You might not be able to determine where the drugs were manufactured or how they were handled.
  • Dosages and drug names may be quite different than they are in the U.S. and the amount of active ingredients may be different than in the U.S. Not all drugs will come with instructions for use, and if they do, they’ll likely be in Spanish.
  • Breaking U.S. laws regarding importation of foreign drugs may lead to your arrest in the U.S. Do not lie to U.S. Customs.
  • Breaking Mexican laws regarding purchasing of drugs may lead to your arrest in Mexico. Penalties for drug offenses are strict, and convicted offenders can expect large fines and jail sentences up to 25 years. Unknowingly breaking the law, or getting a Mexican prescription, even unknowingly, from someone who is not authorized to issue it does not excuse a U.S. citizen from prosecution in Mexico.
  • You must declare the drugs at Customs upon your return. Customs permits people to bring back reasonable amounts of medications for personal use but does not allow stockpiling or purchasing large amounts of drugs for what will be assumed is a commercial or resale purpose. If the medication is a controlled substance, a reasonable amount means up to 50 combined total doses.
  • If you do bring a prescription drug that is a controlled substance into the U.S. from Mexico, it must be for legitimate personal medical use. It should be in the original container, which must identify the substance and the name and address of the dispenser.
  • If you lie to customs about having drugs and you are caught, the consequences could be simple, like having the drugs taken away, or very serious, such as going to jail.

Keep in mind that buying drugs on the Internet or by mail from other countries is very risky, and this article does not address that situation at all. You can learn more about that from the FDA online.

To complicate matters, an entire industry has apparently arisen whereby large quantities of legal prescription drugs are being smuggled into the U.S. to target consumers who have become wary of traveling to Mexico but are seeing their drug costs through legitimate channel continue to increase. These are homemade, black market medicines that are made to look like legitimate brands. Beware of buying these medications from people you don't know, or at locations (flea markets, for example) that would not normally be licensed to dispense drugs. The old adage still applies: if it seems to good to be true, it probably is (too good to be true).

Get Current Information About Regulations on Importing Drugs From Mexico

Disclaimer: Laws are constantly changing, and the guidelines mentioned here are subject to change without notice. We are not doctors, U.S. Customs officials, DEA officials, or FDA officials. If you have questions about the drugs you are taking, contact a physician. If you have questions about current laws regarding importation of drugs, contact U.S. Customs.

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