Legal Drug Traffic
Because of our sick health care system in the US many people drive across the US/Mexico border for things as simple as antibiotics and anti-fungicides.
I spoke with two such people last week, surprised that with the media attention on all the violence in Mexican border towns, anyone would take a day trip to buy medicine they could get legally in the US.
The first person I spoke with is a single mom, struggling to make ends meet, with no insurance for her or her child. She escaped a domestic violence situation several years ago. When she got government sponsored medical insurance for herself and her child, the child’s father, who pays no child support, was notified that he owed the state for a portion of the medical insurance. When he got the notice he figured out where she was and she had to move, again.
She tells me she is afraid to apply for any of the government sponsored insurances and feels safer paying for her children’s needs out of pocket.
“My boys are rarely sick,” she says.
If they become ill she gives them antibiotics, using her own judgment.
I try not to be offensive, but I challenge her judgment vs. the judgment of a doctor.
“In the middle of the night, with an earache that hurts so badly he can’t stop crying, or a barking cough that makes him cry that he can’t breath, I know he needs antibiotics,” she says confidently.
Then she adds with a sigh that she would prefer to take antibiotics under a doctors care, but she just can’t afford it.
She goes on to relate the one time she did rush her son to the Emergency Room with an ear ache at two in the morning. The bill for the ER alone was $3000, on top of the several $100 for each test, and an $80 bill just to take his temperature and pulse.
Being part of the displaced middle class she has goals that include buying a house in the future and financing a new car. She chose to pay the bill rather than let it go into collections and affect her ability to get credit in the future. She told me she was able to negotiate the bill down a little, but even with that, it took her three years to pay it off.
So now she, a white skinned blonde, traipses across the border once a year, to buy her antibiotics. When I ask her if she is scared, she laughs.
“I live in fear of a man I know, whom I married. What do I have to worry about from strangers? I am not part of whatever drug war they are having. Why would they bother me?”
The guy I speak with is a little less cavalier. He is scared, and he isn’t shy to say so.
“Yeah, I really stand out now that there are hardly any tourists in Tijuanna,” he flashes a movie star smile. Then tells me he had his cosmetic dentistry done in Mexico.
“I feel like a target, like I’m carrying a ‘Shot-me-I’m-an-American’ sign.”
I ask him if he’s ever experienced any crime or been confronted while in Mexico. He says no.
He is a 30 something who splits his time between construction work and doing sound for a local band, and he is uninsured.
And that doesn’t just refer to medical insurance.
He got into a car accident last year, uninsured. It wasn’t his fault, but the guy who hit him was uninsured as well. So he was left with a totaled car and broken teeth.
A friend at work, who is Mexican, referred him to a good dentist across the border. The first time he went down there his co-worker went with him. For the next several visits he went alone.
“I was scared as Hell, you know, you hear about all the killings, but I just went straight to the dentist’s office and then back onto the bus to take me to the US border.”
He told me the dentist spoke perfect English, the office was clean and state of the art, and the bill was 10 times cheaper than anything he would have spent in the US. He admitted that it was a big help that his friend, who knew the dentist, made the connection.
“Yeah, in Mexico it is a lot about who you know,” he said, “If I had just wandered in off the street it would have been a little more, but nowhere near what it would cost in the US.”
His teeth are perfect now, so why does he still go to Mexico periodically?
“Hey, 40 is approaching and I want to keep this great head of hair. Propecia is dirt cheap there,” he laughs, flashing those perfect teeth again.
Then he confides that his girlfriend has him buy her Retin-A when he comes down because since she lost her job she can’t afford to get a prescription.
I asked the single mom, as well as the guy (neither of whom minded me writing about them but asked that I not use their names) what they say to customs officials when they come back with prescription drugs, and no prescription.
They both said customs never asks about prescription drugs, or anything else, except for alcohol and cigarettes, and those are legal to bring back too, just in limited quantities.
“I’m sure,” said the single mom, “That if I had bags and bags of antibiotics that would be a different story, but I just buy two or three, and usually a few other little things. You know,” she added, “It isn’t just prescription drugs that are cheaper, so is sunscreen, familiar US brands of sunscreen, and last time I was there I got a watch for my nephew at a really good price, and he is still wearing it and it is working fine.”
I also asked them both about the language issue. Neither one speaks Spanish. And neither one had a hard time finding at least one English speaking employee in any of the places they went.
What about changing money?
“It’s a border town,” said the guy, “Everyone takes US dollars.”
I am happy this option is open for these two acquaintances of mine. But I wish the US healthcare system were a little healthier and they didn’t have to leave the country to afford medicine.