Drugstores (farmacias) in Costa Rica

Ξ October 25th, 2006 | → 12 Comments | ∇ Costa Rica, Health and Welfare, Life in Costa Rica, Retire to Costa Rica |

mortar_and_pestle.jpgPharmacies in Costa Rica are quite different than those you find in North America. A regente or pharmacist runs each pharmacy. Most, if not all, also have their doctorate. They can provide a lot of help in choosing medicines and providing good advice.

The services are quite different. You can get an injection or you can buy a pill. Yeah… one pill… or 6… or 11. Many people here cannot afford a whole bottle, so they can buy just what they need for 1 or 2 days, then return to buy more if needed.

One of the good… or bad… things about a Costa Rican drugstore (aka droguería but far more common in Costa Rica, farmacia) is that you can also buy just about any prescription drug you want without a prescription.

While this seems like a great deal, and maybe it is, when a person makes the decision to self-medicate, to buy a prescription drug without a physician’s advice, the burden of making the correct decision is removed from the hands of the doctor and placed squarely in the hands of the person buying that prescription.

I was faced with this a bit less than a year ago when I decided to quit my multi-pack per day smoking habit. A doctor buddy in the US recently quit smoking by using Wellbutrin, an anti depressant. At first blush, this seemed a bit over the top as I had heard that anti-depressants have a lot of side effects and can have many interactions with other drugs. In any case, they should not be taken without a doctor’s approval. Still… my habit of smoking 4-5 packs a day was a tad over the top as well, so I decided to do some investigating.

My friend swore that taking Wellbutrin daily really cut back on the withdrawal symptoms and I believed him, as he was a 2 pack per day man himself. I checked with my local farmacia and, of corse, Wellbutrin was available from stock, no prescription needed. At $56.00 for 15 day supply, this was not going to be a cheap experiment, but 4 packs (minimum) of cigarettes per day @ $1.25 per pack was also not cheap. Actually, $150.00 per month if you do the math, so $112.00 for Wellbutrin was not too out of line.

So I got onto the Internet and downloaded a whopping 149 pages of documentation and drug trial information about Wellbutrin. I decided there was nothing in my health profile that indicated taking the drug would cause problems, and it could do me no harm based on what I read. If successful, my health would certainly be at less risk than continuing the smoking.

Surprisingly, the Wellbutrin worked exactly as my buddy told me it would, and I pretty much painlessly stopped smoking. It’s been several months now and while I of course occasionally want to smoke, so far I have resisted. I stopped taking the Wellbutrin after about 90 days. BTW, you do not just QUITE taking an anti-depressant. That was NOT covered in all the literature, and stopping cold turkey is a no-no. You have to wind down over several weeks or a month. I spent 4-5 pretty nasty days learning this little fact. Oh well…

My purpose in writing this is not so much to relate my quit smoking thing, but to warn those of you who may be moving, traveling, or living Costa Rica that you must truly be responsible for how you use the drug stores here. For example, taking too many antibiotics can result in your body creating antibiotic resistant strains. A drug interaction, even with a non-prescription drug and be dangerous. Then you really have a problem.

Do your homework and use the Internet as a resource. It contains a staggering about of information needed to safeguard your health.


12 Responses to ' Drugstores (farmacias) in Costa Rica '

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  1. La Gringa said,

    on October 28th, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    Good advice, Tim. While most doctors recommend taking an antibiotic for 5 to 7 days minimum, I’ve noticed the farmacias here in Honduras are happy to sell you a 2 or 3 day supply, never mentioning that it isn’t a good idea to take it for a short term like that.

    Recently a pharmacist recommended a drug for me but they only had a foil pack of 3 tablets. She said that a 3-day supply (6 tablets) was necessary to be effective. We bought the other tablets at another pharmacy where they never mentioned that 6 tablets were needed.

    So, even if you can’t check out the drug on the internet beforehand (you don’t know what you are going to buy), it is a good idea to do so afterwards, just to doublecheck.

    Congratulations on quitting smoking. I know that is a very hard thing to do.

  2. jim vogt said,

    on November 3rd, 2006 at 12:05 am

    Congrats on the quitting. Here was my formula. Welbutrin plus the patch plus nicotene gum as needed. Made it a breeze. I did this once before. Then I thought I could have just one ciggy. Big mistake. Had to start all over. You can not have just one.

  3. Tim said,

    on November 4th, 2006 at 9:36 am

    Oh man are you ever right on that “just one more” thing. We are just like alcoholics… there is no such thing as “just one more”.

    Obviously you suffered no ill effects, but in all that reading I did on Welbutrin, they make it pretty clear to NOT use the nicotine gum or patches while on the drug. Can do nasty stuff to your heart if you suffer from those problems. I mention this more for those others that may read this. Congrats to you too!

  4. fred said,

    on April 23rd, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Sounds somewhat like Mexico , in obtaining prescription drugs . I wonder if this is SOP
    for Latin American countries ? Seems that poverty would cause many people to ‘undermedicate’ and create super strains of some diseases , thinking especially of STDs .
    Are people able to buy powerful amphetamines, like they can in Germany ?

    Any word of other Latin American countries
    following in Mexico’s footsteps on the legalization of small amounts of heroin, cocaine and other narcotics ? The outcome will
    have global significance .

    Tim , thanks for the great site and blog 🙂

  5. Tim said,

    on April 23rd, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    As CAJA provides free drugs, there is not much if any undermedicating.

    As for the high test stuff… you still need a script for that stuff, and I am SURE the heavy stuff will NEVER be legalized.

  6. Debbie said,

    on May 15th, 2007 at 8:06 am

    I recently moved here from the USA, where medications such as anti-anxiety, psychotropic, antidepressant medications are readily available. Since I know mental illness is not contained to the USA, therefore I wonder what do mentally ill people do in Costa Rica? I wonder how many of the people I see sleeping in the streets may not be there had they had the medication.

  7. Tim said,

    on May 15th, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    You are presuming that those sleeping in the streets suffer from mental illness, a faulty presumption. I have had significant contact with them over the years and the issue is not (in general) their mental health. It is drugs, most often crack.

  8. Debbie said,

    on May 16th, 2007 at 8:38 am

    I am assuming nothing. I am just stating it is a possiblity for some of these people. No one is addressing my question…what do people who, for whatever reason, need some type of psychotropic medication do in Costa Rica? I admit the medications are over-prescribed in the US. However, I have seen lives saved by the addition of a medication(s) to treat depression,anxiety, bipolar disorder.

  9. Darwin said,

    on September 16th, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    Being a pharmacist who works in a fairly large hospital in Southern California, I kind of cringe to hear stories like this. Not to knock the regentes for I am sure that they provide excellent quality care but I would hesitate to leave my health in the hands of someone less trained (for a lack of a better term). By the way, congrats on quitting smoking. Not too many people can say they stopped on first go around.

    Also, love your blog! Nothing like reading good material while at work!

  10. cricaran said,

    on January 18th, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    living in costa rica and running out of daily meds. can present some problems. yes, you can buy many prescription drugs over the counter however, some times the drugs are not available in the same strengths. sometimes you can double up or cut in half to accomodate your needs. if there are multiple drugs in one dose they may not be available at all. if you have caja (public health system) the line to pay is generally long. cash speaks quicker. narcotics are easier to get on street than from doctor.

  11. Ally said,

    on February 12th, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Does anyone know about Adderall? My insurance is no longer helping me with this much, so its costing me an arm and a leg….Will be traveling to costa rica next month…is that available?

  12. BillyLiape said,

    on December 21st, 2022 at 11:54 pm

    Hi, kam dashur të di çmimin tuaj

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