In borderland Texas, a widespread lack of health insurance is linked to poverty and high rates of diseases such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.In the movie Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey's character sought out AIDS drugs from Mexico because of approval delays at the FDA. These days, the practice has become more common and generalized, with folks bringing everyday medications into the country illegally because of inflated prices barring access to medication by the uninsured.
Cheaper prescription drugs to treat these conditions are available across the border in Mexico. But physicians and law enforcement are tracking a relatively new trend — the smuggling of medicine in bulk from Mexico to U.S. patients who no longer feel safe shopping for them in Mexico.
Mexican Pharmacist Jorge Sandoval says people who buy his medicines these days often buy for people they don’t even know.
“There’s a trade in legal prescription medication,” he said in Spanish from his shop in Chihuahua, Mexico, about an hour south of the border. “The trade is generated by people (in both countries) who want to buy medicine at a lower price. People are bringing in ice chests to fill with medicines that they sell to friends and relatives.”
About 24 percent of Texans have no medical insurance, the highest percentage of uninsured in the nation. And although Texas has some of the highest enrollments in the new health care marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, the numbers represent a small fraction of the overall uninsured.
That’s one reason why, for years, people have crossed the border for cheaper medicine. The diabetes medicine Metformin is $35 a month here and $15 in Mexico. The blood thinner Coumadin is $60 a month here, $15 there.
But what’s new here is a cottage industry of smugglers buying medicines in bulk to bring back to the U.S.
When black markets occur for legal commodities - especially ones that don't get you high - it's an indictment of government-sanctioned oligopolies controlling distribution and price. Drug companies on the US side are making a fortune from this over-charging, subsidized by friendly government regulators and now gun wielding law enforcement officers. Don't police have anything better to do than arrest folks for getting legal, prescribed drugs to sick people who need them at a cost they can actually afford?