Insulin, visiting Mexico?
Actualizado: 21 de sep de 2019
I have been contacted by several people in the last months, many from our online communities asking for information about insulin pricing in my country. The immediate response was always something like “wow, it’s so cheap!” Well, it’s not that cheap for people living in Mexico who do not have a health system.
Even when we have different public and private hospitals, the truth is, not everyone will have access to basic supplies, including insulin. Yet visiting Mexico makes it somehow easier for our friends in the United States as our currency makes it affordable and there’s no need for a prescription. I always thought everyone visited Tijuana.
It was a shocking surprise when some weeks ago I went to my local pharmacy — in Mexico City — to buy my medical supplies and I found a big group of young adults from the US. I approached the clerk who knows the type of insulin I normally buy, but he immediately said out loud in Spanish “I’m sorry, there’s no insulin here today, these young folks just bought it all”.
I was impressed, and of course, worried. Perhaps I should’ve approached and talked to them, and helped them out, but all I could think was – did they just take all my insulins? (I'm kidding we've got enough and we're always willing to share).
I was lucky to find more insulin to buy in another pharmacy and I asked this time “have any of you noticed people from other countries traveling all the way to Mexico City to buy diabetes-related supplies?” They all said yes.
Why haven’t any of my DOC friends requested help personally? was my immediate thought.
It is important to be mindful of the local diabetic population, and although this is by no means a suggestion for people coming to Mexico to buy their insulin, I know that it will happen. So here are some precautions and tips you should want to consider if you're planning to come visit and buy insulins.
Here is my advice to stay safe.
Are those the same insulins?
Insulins that we can acquire in Mexico are the same insulins that are sold in the United States at exorbitant prices. In fact, in Mexico there is only one laboratory that produces insulin locally.
This means that it could be possible that the vials we find in our pharmacies come from other countries such as: United States and Brazil and — except for the packaging — they are the same as the ones found in a pharmacy in the United States.
Regarding the names of insulins
First, keep in mind that although the insulins are the same, names can be confusing. Knowing them will help you if you plan traveling to acquire them.
In Mexico, the following names are used:
INSULINAS ULTRARRÁPIDAS (rapid-acting insulins) — These are Lispro, Apidra, Novorapid. We still do not have Fiasp insulin available in Mexico and we do not have an approximate date yet.
The cost of these insulins in Mexico ranges between MXN$600 and MXN$800 depending on the brand and, of course, the pharmacy. Apidra (Glulisine) is named Shorant and Novolog (Aspart) is named Novorapid in Mexico.
INSULINAS REGULARES (regular insulin) — In Mexico, before the existence of rapid-acting insulins, this insulin was known as “rápida” (fast). Although the name is the same in other countries than it is in Mexico (REGULAR) it is called fast in some places and this can generate a lot of confusion.
INSULINAS PROLONGADAS (long-acting insulins) — In Mexico, pharmacy clerks frequently classify NPH insulin (intermediate) as long-acting insulin, so you should also be extra cautious. In our pharmacies, you will find all types of long-acting insulins except Basaglar.
In Mexico we have Levemir, Lantus, Tresiba (Degludec U100) and Toujeo (Glargine U300).
Note: Thank you Clinica EnDi SC for your feedback for this important info.
Regarding proper care during storage
Surely you know that there are many pharmacies in Mexico. Sadly, not all of them care properly for the storage of insulins and, we must say, the cold chain in many cases is not the most appropriate. Few establishments have an infrastructure that allows insulins to be kept in good conditions.
Look for establishments that have contact information you can verify on the internet. Identify large chain pharmacies and call ahead to make sure they carry the insulin that you are looking for and that it is kept refrigerated.
Pharmacies like Farmacias del Ahorro, Farmacias Benavides and Farmacias San Pablo know how to handle and store insulins. Insulins in these chain pharmacies can be bought online so if you're traveling to Mexico (let's say Tijuana) but want to stay safe (because security is an important thing to consider not only in Mexico but everywhere you go) you can request insulins by phone or web and get them delivered to your door (or coffee shop, or hotel lobby) in no more than 60 minutes.
Regarding other supplies
In Mexico we have different types and brands of glucose meters. Some are the same as in the United States but you will have to make sure that the strips also work on your device.
Some meters have chips and country-specific codes so you will not be able to use Mexican strips in the United States and vice versa.
In Mexico we only have one brand of CGM (Medtronic). Sadly, there's no Dexcom yet nor any other insulin pump. So there's no possibility to buy cheaper sensors or supplies. FreeStyle Libre does have representation and an online shop and in some states, you will be able to find sensors at Costco BUT sensors and codes are different and you won't be able to use with equipment from the US or other countries. Purchase/sale is carried out on FreeStyle Libre’s local website.
In Mexico there is no need for a prescription for the purchase of supplies related to the management of the different types of diabetes; however, other types of medications, antibiotics among them, you will need a formal medical prescription. Many of our diabetes management supplies can also be purchased at large self-service stores such as Walmart and other supermarkets.
Regarding your safety
It is not a secret. Visiting Tijuana can be fun, but it can also be dangerous. Make sure you check the area where you will be staying before you arrive. Although us Mexicans are extremely nice and friendly, we also recognize that there are dangerous areas in several of our states.
Use safe routes, travel in groups, and try to travel our roads and highways during the day.
Next time you’re visiting Mexico City, make sure to contact me so we can also share life experiences.