Study: Internet drug prices in Mexico are 40% cheaper than online prices in the US

It’s no secret that countless people routinely travel to Mexico to get cheaper medicines and health services. This is especially true in El Paso, where thousands cross the International Bridge into Juarez daily.

Tom Fullerton, long-time professor of economics and finance at UTEP, has studied the phenomenon known as medical tourism for more than a decade, analyzing price data from both countries.

His studies, part of the University of Texas’ El Paso Border Region Modeling Project, showed that the vast majority of the most common brand-name prescription drugs are more affordable in traditional pharmacies in Mexico than in the United States.

But can the same be said about online pharmacy prices?

His research says yes – about 40% cheaper. His latest studies also indicate that online pharmacy prices in Mexico adapt quickly to changing prices in the United States but are still affordable. The study shows on average, for every $1 change in US prices, there is a 46 percent change in Mexican prices.

“Medical tourism is alive and well and will continue to expand and will be relevant to the overall economy of the border region,” Fullerton said. “This is as true for traditional businesses as it is online.”

Online medical tourism – also known as pharmaceutical e-commerce or virtual medical tourism – has been booming for several years now. But experts say online pharmacies have seen significant growth along with other online retailers during and after the pandemic.

rules and regulations

Customers can order drugs from Mexico and have them shipped to them in the United States if they are for personal use and do not exceed 90-day supplies, according to the Federal Drug Administration.

Although it does not have regulatory powers over prescription drugs outside the United States, the FDA warns buyers that drugs approved outside the country may contain various ingredients that could have adverse interactions or unexpected side effects.

In addition, many unsafe pharmacies use fake ‘store fronts’ to make consumers believe the drug comes from countries with equivalent safety standards, the FDA said on its website.

one mexican pharmacist website, medsmex.com.mx, which were included in the Fullerton study, notes that all of its products are FDA approved. The site also states that no prescription is required to purchase any medications at its pharmacy and that users agree to purchase for their own personal use.

Company officials could not be reached for comment.

“We are simply a resource to use to get medicines at a discount,” the site states after the disclaimer that it does not have an on-site pharmacist, or provide medical advice or advice on product dosage or uses.

Shipping fee from medmex.com.mx They are listed at around $25 and packages are sent via registered mail within seven to 10 days, the site explains.

There are three main reasons why drugs are cheaper in Mexico than in the United States, said David J. Viquist, founder and director of the Center for Medical Tourism Research, part of the Lisa and Jacques-Louis III Institute of the Americas at the University of Incarnati. Speech in San Antonio.

First, higher costs in the United States allow drug companies to invest in developing new drugs and sell products to developing countries at reasonable costs.

Second, many drugs worldwide are manufactured and approved by the US Federal Drug Administration in countries such as Mexico, which means that the US absorbs supply chain costs to get them into US pharmacies.

Third, Viquist said, drugs manufactured in other countries do not have the same liability concerns as the United States. In other words, a consumer is less likely to sue a Mexican drug manufacturer than an American company, which adds potential liability costs to their prices.

“The pricing dynamics are complex and fascinating, and I think a lot of consumers don’t realize why,” Viquist said, adding that healthcare is becoming more global with technology.

Luis Enrique Jimenez Armendariz, a pharmacist at Farmacias Likees’ Avenida Juárez location, receives many clients from the United States every day. (Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters)

a decade of studies

Fullerton’s preliminary medical pricing study in 2010 looked at 44 brand-name drugs sold in Walgreens open pharmacies in El Paso and three Juárez stores: SMart, Farmacias Benavidez, and MediMex Catalog.

Fullerton and teammate Osvaldo Miranda in Are brand-name drug prices really low in Ciudad Juarez? The study outlined what many already know about the narrative: Customers can save significant savings for many brand-name drugs when they buy them in Juarez.

For example, at the time, a customer could save more than $1,615 a year if they bought Nexium for acid reflux or ulcers at SMart or Benavides in Juárez compared to El Paso Walgreens. Prozac savings for depression were nearly $1,000 a year, $434 for Crestor for cholesterol and $275 for Zyrtec for allergies.

The study also notes savings on doctor visits, as many customers who cross into Juarez for medicines also get a consultation in Mexico with either a doctor or pharmacist without having to take out insurance.

“Even with insurance, co-payments are high for many people and the cost of drugs in the United States is high,” Fullerton said. “So you end up with not only people from the region going to Juarez, but you also getting people from as far away as Canada and many snowbirds from Florida and other areas across the United States crossing into Mexico to get their medicine.”

Those savings seem real with Olaya, an El Paso resident who frequents Farmalivio Pharmacy in Juarez about twice a month.

“It’s cheaper here and apart from that, I don’t need a prescription or spend on doctors,” Olaya said in Spanish during her recent trip to the pharmacy, adding that she preferred not to give her full name. There is a $300 doctor’s visit. Here for less than 10 bucks. That’s a big difference.”

Olaya, an El Paso resident, walks along Avenida Juarez after buying the drug from Pharmalview, a Mexican pharmacy, on June 6. (Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters)

The Supreme described the quality of the Mexican drugs as “excellent,” saying that she feels better in one dose and her health is improving.

“By comparison, in El Paso, the treatment is for seven days and you feel kind of better. But it doesn’t actually cure you, and you have to come back for another 15 days.”

Luis Enrique Jimenez Armendariz, a pharmacist at Similaraciaes on Juárez Street, said many of his US clients are complaining about medical services and costs.

“Apart from being economical here, they also come here for service,” he said. “We have very good doctors. They are all licensed.”

Jimenez said he sees clients from all over the United States, as well as from Canada, who usually buy medications for high blood pressure and a few of them buy antibiotics or vitamins.

Similar Farmacias, he said, have their own laboratories, making them accessible to everyone.

Switch to electronic pharmacies

A year after the initial Fullerton study came out, drug cartel violence in Juarez has become increasingly prevalent and serious. Medical tourism – like international tourism in general – has practically stopped. Fullerton said drug prices in Mexico, which were much closer to prices in the United States, fell in 2011.

“We found that people migrated online in response to violence along the border,” Fullerton said.

This led to a 2014 study.

Fullerton et al. – Francisco J. Ballaris and Adam J Are online pharmacy prices really low in Mexico?

The study looked at model data for the 50 best-selling prescription drugs sold online in the United States and Mexico. The medications included everything from A to Z – Abilify to Zyprexa. Generic drugs were not included in the study, and shipping charges and taxes were also excluded.

Some drugs from Mexico can be purchased online and shipped to the United States, although the Food and Drug Administration warns buyers that drugs approved outside the country may contain various ingredients that can have adverse interactions or unexpected side effects. (Photo courtesy of Cory Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

That study showed that all but 10 of the 50 drugs were cheaper in Mexico, and that US consumers could save more than $1,000 a year by purchasing prescription drugs online from Mexican pharmacies.

For example, a month’s supply of Gleeve, which is used to treat certain types of cancer such as leukemia, costs roughly $2,260 online in the US — and $675 a month from an online provider in Mexico. That was a savings of about $1,600 per month.

A 2014 study showed that buying more standard medications like Protonix for heartburn or Spiriva for asthma online from Mexico was $186 and $155 per month cheaper than online in the United States, respectively.

Among those drugs with lower prices in the United States was Lantus, an insulin intended for diabetes. This drug was about $116 per month cheaper from online US suppliers than from Mexican online pharmacies. This may be due to the high rates of diabetes in Mexico, Fullerton said, which has increased demand and prices.

Other cheaper medications in the US included Lyrica for epilepsy and fibromyalgia, Lipitor for cholesterol and coronary artery disease, Diovan for high blood pressure and Cialis for erectile dysfunction.

cross-border link

Last month, Fullerton and colleague (and son) Stephen Fullerton released an update of the study, “Total Brand Name Online Pharmacy Price Dynamics for the United States and Mexico.”

This specifically looked at how prices have evolved over the years and whether online drug prices from both countries correlate over time.

“Over the 15-year sample period, online drug prices in Mexico were, on average, 40% lower than prices charged online in the United States,” the report states.

For example, buying a month’s supply of Flomax for BPH online from a Mexican pharmacy costs about $146 compared to $585 online in the US – which is roughly $440. It is assumed that the patient takes one tablet daily.

Assuming the patient is taking one pill per day, the one-month supply of Lipitor to treat cholesterol and coronary artery problems is about $215 cheaper when purchased online from a Mexican provider; Singulair Chewable One Month For Asthma is about $288 less.

As in the original online study of drugs, the prices do not include shipping charges or taxes.

Unlike other price adjustments in Mexican goods when prices rise in the United States — which is usually 30 to 60 days, previous research by the Border Area Modeling Project — online drug prices move in a near-contemporary fashion, Fullerton said.

Fullerton said price volatility does not usually work in the opposite direction, which means drug prices in Mexico respond to changes in the high-income market.

Fullerton said that apart from giving consumers information to make purchasing choices, the studies also provide decision makers at various levels with scientifically researched data for policy making.

“Once you understand what is happening in the markets, you can formulate policies based on real data,” he said.

Fullerton said his interest in medical tourism was inspired by a toothache: As a UTEP student many years ago, he needed to have his wisdom teeth extracted. He did not have dental insurance.

“My boss said at the time that his wife was going to a dentist on Lopez Mateos Street in Juarez and that I had to go,” he recalls. “That was my first experience with cross-border medical tourism.”

Cory Boudreaux contributed to this report.