Health reform could boost drug trade rings

Freedom New Mexico

If the new health care law leads to long waits and deteriorating medical care, as many people expect, more Americans might be tempted to head across the border to Mexico for relief from minor or chronic illnesses. So Thursday’s announcement that the Mexican government plans to clamp down on non-prescription antibiotic sales comes as a right cross behind the left hook of the U.S. health care bill’s passage.

Mexico’s health department issued a short announcement that it is drawing up procedures to deal with pharmacies that sell antibiotics to people who don’t have prescriptions. Penalties could include shutting down the pharmacies completely.

The goal, the announcement states, aims to stop people from self-diagnosing illnesses and buying medicines on their own.

Self-diagnosis is always risky business; fungal, viral and bacterial infections are treated differently, for example, and seeing a trained medic is always the best policy.

However, some people already know what they have and what they need. They don’t see the need for enduring long waits in doctor’s offices, and the expense that comes with it — and yes, people will still be required to pay a portion of their doctor’s bill under the federal health plan, just as they do under private insurance. But some parents with small children who are prone to minor ear infections, and know what the doctor always prescribes for them, for example, might prefer to forgo yet another doctor’s visit just to get the prescription. Of course, those who prefer the security of a doctor’s diagnosis will still seek it out.

Some people, such as manual laborers, keep a supply of antibiotics handy to stave off infection whenever they suffer moderate cuts on the job. To be sure, however, the overuse of these medications is one of the Mexican authorities’ concerns, since it could speed the emergence of new germs that are resistant to existing drugs.

It’s also worth noting that federal officials at international ports of entry can stop people from bringing in controlled medications if they can’t show a valid prescription.

It isn’t yet known if this crackdown is an isolated measure or if Mexico’s government plans to increase its overall regulation of legal prescription drugs. Making it harder to obtain other over-the-counter and prescription drugs could put a big dent in pharmacy sales in Matamoros, Nuevo Progeso, Reynosa and other border cities. Even with a prescription, many medicines, including antibiotics, are much cheaper in Mexico than in the United States, even with insurance co-pays.

The ability to pay less for drugs in Mexico is one reason the Rio Grande Valley is so popular with Winter Texans, retirees who spend the winter months there. Many of them find they can save a bundle by stocking up on a year’s supply of prescribed medication, so they won’t have to pay the higher prices back home.

Many people are able to make informed decisions on medication without having to see a doctor. Rigid controls, while passed in the name of public safety, essentially guarantee more business for doctors, and increase costs for patients — many times unnecessarily.

Instead of taking advantage of the U.S. health bill’s passage and honoring individuals’ freedom to choose, Mexico’s government could instead be hurting its own cause, and creating a new black market to an illegal drug trade that already has a chokehold on the whole country.