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According to a February 24 report in Tijuana's daily Frontera, the city is on the verge of losing a thousand farmacias.

According to the article, about 5000 pharmacies currently exist in Tijuana (other publications use the same figure; others peg it closer to 2000). Due to the perception of widespread violence in TJ, lengthy waits at the border, and the recently imposed controls on the sale of antibiotics (the insistence that a prescription be required for their purchase), some 20 percent of the drug shops are reportedly suffering an unsustainable lack of sales.

Julián Palombo, president of the Asociación de Empresarios Farmacéuticos de México (an association of pharmaceutical-related businesses), said that many of the pharmacies, usually independently operated, are facing bankruptcy. Palombo also mentioned that extortion of tourists by police and restrictions placed on the use of U.S. dollars made a big dent in the sale of pharmaceuticals last year.

Many farmacias reported losses of 60 to 80 percent in sales in the last months of 2010, while dozens opted to close their doors. Since the start of the new year, sales have failed to recover, even though the flu season is in full swing and, statistically, usually bodes well for medicine sales . This year, such sales are not happening.

Palombo feels that part of the problem may be that potential customers in the U.S. believe that the restrictions on antibiotic sales apply to all medications. He wants an informational campaign launched in both Mexico and the U.S., at a national level, in order to inform the public of the facts regarding drug purchases made in Mexico.

Palombo pointed out that the American consumer is the “natural consumer” for the Mexican pharmaceutical industry and that rapid actions must be taken in order to insure that the American market for Mexican medicine does not dry up.

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Ponzi Jan. 27, 2011 @ 8:10 a.m.

"... the American consumer is the “natural consumer” for the Mexican pharmaceutical industry..."

How true. Mexico is where many people I know used to go to purchase Xanax, Valium and other narcotics without a prescription. That’s probably why there are thousands of pharmacies in Tijuana in the first place.

Times have changed and people don’t go there. They get their kick at the medical marijuana dispensaries that are proliferating on this side of the border.

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David Dodd Jan. 27, 2011 @ 3:52 p.m.

I'm certain that some of the purchases were for "recreational" use, but the vast majority of tourists I've met purchased in Mexico because it cost much less in many instances. It's a pain not being able to walk down the street and get some antibiotics when I get an infection, but the antibiotic restrictions were a long time coming. Mexicans would take antibiotics for anything, even a common cold, they didn't know any better. Some are now immune to common antibiotics.

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Ponzi Jan. 27, 2011 @ 7:51 p.m.

I agree that many people were purchasing prescribed medicines in Mexico because they were less money. As I know people who did specifically that. Many of the farmacias require a prescription too, not all are loose dealers. But there were many that sold counterfeits and expired medicines and those bad apples gave them all a bad reputation. Internet (mail order) purchases have also made it easier to bypass Mexico for Rx’s. Canada is a big supplier to internet buyers.

Mostly the problem with the farmacias is no different than any other business on the Mexican border. Whether the crime is overstated or not, it’s scaring most Americans from visiting. In addition, the border traffic (the wait) alone is enough to turn people off. The old days the people going and coming were tourist, these days the border wait is mostly “green card” workers – not tourism.

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Ponzi Jan. 27, 2011 @ 8:04 p.m.

By the way, I have no problem with going to Mexico. I continue to make trips to Ensenada and Puerto Nuevo about twice a year. I am just pointing out that times have changed and there is a lot of fear that has developed in most people’s minds about travel to Tijuana. Unfortunately, that fear has now spread to other coastal cities that the cruise lines have made ports-of-call for decades. Not sure when the elite powers of Mexico are going to be bothered enough to take serious action. It’s apparently not bothering enough of them in their gated and guarded communities and only hurting the so-called Mexican middle class and little shop owners. That to me is the reality. Not having a middle class the voice of the little people are ignored and it’s going to wind up becoming an irreversible crises someday. But Mexico is no stranger to revolutions.

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David Dodd Jan. 27, 2011 @ 9:55 p.m.

Tourism has been decimated in Baja. It began post 9/11 when the U.S. made getting back across the border a nightmare, and the recent violence has only made things worse. I read that the recent decision not to port in Mazatlan is linked to three incidents in particular and it might be temporary, but who can say? So far as the middle class, it has hurt them and the people they employed. A friend of mine owned three businesses in downtown Tijuana that saw more local business but some tourists. One is a bar, which still thrives, a little store that offers natural herbs and remedies (many Mexicans still use and prefer these methods), and a pharmacy. He closed the pharmacy years ago, when the tourists stopped coming, he wasn't making any money.

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Ponzi Jan. 27, 2011 @ 10:40 p.m.

Yeah, I don’t know Refried. If the cruise tourists knew the crime rate in Long Beach and San Pedro (state-side) I wonder if they would fear stopping there. More people are murdered in Long Beach than Mazatlan. It’s all based on media coverage and hysteria.

I am going to Mexico City in a month. But of DF is probably the safest place in the country. I like going for the food and to visit my friends who live there.

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Visduh Jan. 28, 2011 @ 11:26 a.m.

The number of pharmacies in TJ was ridiculous. Without exaggerating, I can say that every third storefront along Revolucion and its connecting streets to the San Ysidro crossing was a pharmacy the last time I visited, five to seven years ago. While it was possible for Gringos to save money on drugs that had been prescribed in some cases, that did not account for the proliferation of pharmacies. It was the illicit acquisition and use of drugs that drove the growth.

Tourism in Mexico is hurting, and the governments (federal, state and local) seem unable to reverse the trend. Mazatlan (which I've visited twice via cruise ship) seems like a benign sort of place. But when the bandidos are robbing tourists right on the waterfront near the pier, that's just letting things get out of hand. In general the desire of Americans to take Mexico cruises is waning fast, as evidenced by the number of liners that are being withdrawn from that service and sent elsewhere. A few more incidents and there may be few or no ships visiting the so-called Mexican Riviera.

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David Dodd Jan. 28, 2011 @ 7:37 p.m.

There isn't any tourism where I live, which is far from downtown. And while there aren't nearly the ridiculous number of pharmacies here as there are near the border, there are probably five times as many here as in your average part of suburban U.S. Even here, you can't swing a cat by the tail without hitting a farmacia. No doubt that many gringo tourists or visitors use the drugs they buy here for recreation, but I don't believe that all of those pharmacies sprung up near the border initially for that purpose, so much as it was a Mexican mindset of taking something that worked well in most of Mexico and completely overdoing it in the tourist spots.

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Ponzi Jan. 28, 2011 @ 8:47 p.m.

I’ll share a little story about my experience at a farmacia in Brazil. But I should first add that most major cities in Mexico and South America have, what Americans would consider, an inordinate number of farmacias. This is true in Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Farmacias are mom and pop businesses and there are many of them because people walk to them just like other little grocers and shops.

We are used to the superstores like CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid. Perhaps what is really happening is the balkanization of big box stores combined with the tourist drought in Tijuana is finally causing the cannibalization of the farmacia business. For example, Costco and Wal-Mart offer prescription drugs that are, in many cases (particularly generic drugs) less than a small farmacia can compete with. I had a prescription that I now fill at Wal-Mart. When I filled it, the Wal-Mart pharmacy technician asked if I had insurance or not. I asked, just out of curiosity, what is the price if I don’t have insurance? She said “it will be $4.00.” I said, well I have insurance. She then said “it will be $45.00 with a $10.00 co-pay.” I said “on second thought, I don’t have insurance.” It’s cheaper to not have insurance and buy at Wal-Mart than to use a prescription insurance program!

So many people don’t need to go to Mexico anymore. The big-box-inization that is devastating small business in America is well on its way to destroying the middle-class mom and pop businesses in Mexico and other Latin American cities. The controversies we have here with Wal-Mart superstores was played out near Mexico City when Wal-Mart, against the wishes of locals, was able to build a giant Wal-Mart store in view of the pyramids at Teotihuacán. Now that is disgusting.

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Ponzi Jan. 28, 2011 @ 8:47 p.m.

My story about my Brazil farmacia experience. Years ago I was visiting Rio de Janeiro during Carnivale. After the long flight from LAX, I arrived with sniffles and a cold. I thought “just great, a cold on the first day of my trip.” I was staying at Caesar Park Hotel in Ipanema. The concierge suggested I go to the farmácia down the street. I did and was greeted by a lone employee. He understood English and said that he would give me some medicine and told me to take a seat. He returned with a syringe and began drawing fluid from two small glass vials. He said that he would give me an ejection and that my cold would go away. I was apprehensive but as an adventurous guy, I always go with the “when in Rome” and do the local thing. He gave me the shot I paid and started walking back to my hotel. About half way down the street I felt faint and light headed. I had to sit down. Now I thought the guy had killed me. After a few minutes, I stood up and walked to the hotel. After unpacking and taking a nap (14 hour flight), I had no more running nose. I felt great, more energy and for the next several weeks, no cold symptoms whatsoever. I don’t know what was in that shot (B-12?) but it eliminated my cold symptoms immediately. That kind of service is why there are so many small farmácias.

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