Your Healthy Expat Bod: Medication 1



I am fortunate that I don’t need to take medecina (medication) often.  Usually, I take an occasional antihistamine to relieve my insect bites, the odd painkiller for a headache, and a bit of hydrogen peroxide and Neosporin for nicks and scrapes.  But the older I get, the more of my friends do take daily meds, and how to get them here is always a question when I speak to groups of potential expats.  As near as I can tell, nearly all the same medications are available in Panama as you can find in the US.  They sometimes have different (Spanish) names, but most are available, even when they must be ordered specially.

The thing to do, if you are planning to move here, is to get an open prescription from your stateside doctor, and visit a farmacía (pharmacy) here with it.  Explain that you will need it on a regular basis, and ask if they can make sure to have it on hand.  The odds are quite good they will.

A point of interest is that a lot of things, such as antibiotics, that require prescriptions in the States are sold over the counter here.  So if, for example, you have some bronchial thing that you catch regularly, and you know what the doctor would prescribe for you, you might be able to just walk into the pharmacy and ask for it.  It’s also possible that your regular meds might not be prescription here.

In Las Tablas, it seems like there is a farmacía on every block.  It’s also interesting to me that pills are dispensed on a onesy-twosy basis.  You cannot buy “a bottle of aspirin,” for example.  But you can buy as many little packages of two aspirins as you want.  I saved an old Excedrin bottle from my last visit to the US and now I buy twenty or so packets of the local version of Tylenol, called Panadol, at once, rip them open and dump them into the bottle.  They take up so much less space that way.

The same thing is true for buying laxatives, sleeping pills, anti-histamines, decongestants, etc.  You have to decide how many you think you will need, and buy that many.  Since this system also applies to band-aids, gauze bandages and related items, and I like to be prepared – who wants to run to the pharmacy with blood pouring down their scraped knee? – I found this single-serving approach actually irritating sometimes.  Now, I just buy a couple dozen of whatever at a time, and keep all that kind of stuff in ZipLoc baggies.  I can see what it is or write a label on the baggie, it stays clean, and it’s relatively easy to keep organized and inventoried.

They know me at several of the farmacías after three years here, so now when I ask for sterile cotton (which I use to scrub my bug bites with hydrogen peroxide), they bring out the biggest container of it that they have and sell me the whole thing.  But the first time, I had to specify how many inches.

The other thing you might want to buy is vitamins and other food supplements.  These are becoming easier to find all the time.  When I first moved here, vitamin C was available only as nickel-sized 500 mg orange chewables on a tablet-by-tablet basis, at about 25 cents a chew.  While my personal psychological quirks will let me take a fistful of vitamin pills and supplements from expensive bottles (I never did the pill-by-pill math) every morning without blinking, somehow chewing up something that cost a readily identifiable quarter each day made me feel quite stingy about doing it.

Now, I am much happier.  There are several pharmacies that sell actual bottles containing 1000 mg pills with no specific price tag per pill (unless I get anal and do the math myself).  Ditto fish oil and other types of vitamins, to which I attribute my lifelong excellent health.

After a lengthy online search for brewers yeast (known here as levadura de cerveza, in case you want to know), and learning that the shipping cost would be prohibitive, I was delighted to find it for a quite reasonable price at the farmacía right next to the grocery where I shop most often.  As a point of interest, this is Farmacîa Andrea, in the Super Carnes complex.  The pharmacist speaks good English, and he tells me they regularly special order quite a variety of more exotic prescriptions for expats in this area.

Tell him I sent you.

One thought on “Your Healthy Expat Bod: Medication

  • Sunnymikkel

    We have also found that whatever nonprescription items you cannot find in a pharmacy, you can generally order through Amazon. We regularly order Tums and 81 mg Aspirin which are either not available in Panama or are very much more expensive. Also we keep the box that prescriptions items come in and when we need a refill, we just show the box. Sometimes we have to get something that is exactly the same medication, but half or double strength, so, we take 2 or cut it in half.

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