Prescription drugs is really something of a misnomer when applied to the Philippines. With the exception of opioid pain medications and benzodiazepine family drugs such as Valium, a doctor’s prescription is not generally needed. Just write down the drug name, the dose and the quantity wanted on a slip of paper, take it to the counter of a pharmacy and it will be filled for you, assuming they have the drug in stock — and that it’s available in the Philippines. Some drugs available in the US are not available in the Philippines. Some drugs are available in the Philippines which are not sold in the US. If you do need pain medication, be prepared for a giant hassle. See /philippine-medical-care-pain-management/
How can you can find out which prescription drugs are available in the Philippines and the price of Philippine prescription drugs? The official Philippine Department of Health list is downloadable at http://doh.gov.ph/ndps/EssentialDrugsList.htm but beware that it’s a big download and the connection sometimes fails. The list gives drug names, doses and prices. You can also see the list at http://myphilippinelife.com/philippine-essential-drugs-list/. The Philippine equivalent of the U.S. PDR drug reference is the MIMS drug manual which is available at the big National Bookstore chain in the Philippines. An online version is available at http://www.mims.com/ The MIMS site now requires registration.
You can also check the Mercury Drug web site at http://www.mercurydrug.com/drugsearch/index.html Basically it gives you the same information at MIMS does but also lets you know whether the drug is available at Mercury, a major pharmacy chain in in the Philippines. It does NOT give prices. You have to e-mail Mercury to get prices. We have had trouble viewing the Mercury site.
Prescription drug costs are generally higher than in the U.S. They are said to be the second highest in Asia after Japan. See HERE for a list of drug prices for for a few drugs we use. It compares the price of generics in the Philippines and the U.S. In general, generics are about twice as expensive in the Philippines as they are n the U.S.
By default, the drugstores will sell you the expensive brand-name drug unless you insist on a generic. A recent effort to require that generic drugs be dispensed by default failed. Let me give you an example. If you ask for the blood pressure drug enalapril, you’ll be given genuine MSD “Renitec” enalapril, made by MSD in Australia, for about 40 pesos per tablet. This is an older drug. Its patents have long expired. If you get the generic United Labs version, you’ll pay about 23 pesos per tablet. I bought the MSD version for several months before I asked about generic versions. It turned out that there were two generics to choose from at vastly lower prices. Of course this is a Philippine-branded generic drug. Some people, including many Filipinos, distrust things made in the Philippines. However, it’s easy to tell if anti-hypertensive drug is working or not through blood pressure monitoring. For me, the generic United Labs brand seem to be working just as well as the MSD version costing about three times as much.
The manufacturer and origin of many generic drugs in the Philippines is not necessarily going to be reassuring. Usually it’s just about impossible to determine where the drug was manufactured. Few pharmaceuticals are actually produced in the Philippines. China and India are the largest producers of pharmaceuticals in Asia. Raw materials or finished product may be imported into the Philippines and processed and packed for sale. I have not seen generic drugs from the big international generic drug producers such as Teva or Mylan, which are supposedly subject to regulation and inspection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps it’s more profitable for the Philippine drug distributors to buy from smaller Asian drug companies than it is to buy from the better recognized generic manufacturers.
****THIS IS AN ARTICLE YOU SHOULD READ ABOUT PRESCRIPTION DRUG QUALITY http://myphilippinelife.com/dirty-medicine-a-chilling-expose-on-an-indian-drug-giant-which-well-might-make-your-generic-lipitor/
At least one of the major pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, has a very worthwhile discount program for many of their prescription drugs. You may be able to get a Pfizer “Sulit” (value) card from your physician. It looks like a credit card. It entitles you to a significant discount on the drug for which it’s issued – about 25% to 50% or more. Cards are available for Lipitor, Viagra, Lyrica, Norvasc, Neurontin, Ponstan and dozens of other Pfizer drugs. Independent drug stores and smaller chains are trying to get the Pfizer Sulit program scuttled because the big chains (such as Mercury) can sell the Pfizer drugs for considerably less than can smaller stores and chains which do not participate in the Sulit program. It’s unlikely that every physician has a Pfizer Sulit card to give you for each and every drug. You may have to pester your physician to obtain the card from his Pfizer rep. I saw a list of the Pfizer drugs available at a Mercury Drug store but can’t find it online. If you know where to find a list of Sulit drugs, please let us know in the comment box below.
According to its web site, GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) offers a “ValueHealth” program. Covered drugs include: “essential antibiotics like co-trimoxazole and amoxicillin, cefaclor, erythromycin and cephalexin and other medication for common ailments such as Ambrolex (ambroxol), Calpol (paracetamol), the leading asthma brand of salbutamol, and rifampicin are made more affordable by as much as 34 percent under the ValueHealth program.” I’ll try to get further details.
Philippine senior citizens can get a senior citizen discount card. Foreigners do not qualify.
I usually buy my drugs at Mercury Drugs, which seems to be the biggest drugstore chain in the Philippines. This is for a couple of reasons. Mercury has a name to protect and presumably the expertise and motivation to avoid selling counterfeit drugs. Counterfeit drugs are a serious problem. Experts say as much as 30% of drugs sold in Asia are counterfeit. Prescription drugs can be affected by heat. Many drug stores are open air with temperatures exceeding those recommended for storing drugs. Most (but not all) Mercury Drugstores are more or less air conditioned. Always check to see the expiration date of the drugs you are buying. All the drugs I have bought from Mercury have been fresh, usually with more than a year until they expire. There is little price competition for drugs (or anything else) in the Philippines. I just don’t think it’s worth taking the risk to buy drugs from mom and pop drug stores. There are other chains which may be just as reliable as Mercury. That said, Mercury does not always stock some the the cheaper generics. For example, Mercury sells the generic drug Finasteride under the “Atepros” brand at P44 for 5 mg. The pharmacy at the Iloilo Supermarket sells the Indian-made “Finaid” brand for P24.75 for 5 mg. Which is better, which is safer? Who knows! Only a rich nation can afford to test thousands of drugs to be sure they are safe and effective. That’s why much of the world relies on research from the United States Food and Drug Administration. That’s why it’s a bit disconcerting that many of the generics sold in the Philippines are from Asian pharmaceutical firms which may not be subject to FDA inspection. The FDA does inspect some big Indian drug makers including Dr. Reddy and Ranbaxy Laboratories. Both sell products in the U.S. market.
The Philippine government recently adopted a “Cheap Drugs” bill which required price cuts on a few medications. One of the drugs affected by the law is Lipitor (atorvastatin). 80mg genuine Lipitor now costs P50.60 at Mercury Drug. I split the 80mg tablets and use a 40mg dose which costs me only about P25 per day.
Finally, you’ll be charged a 12% value added tax (VAT) on your prescription drugs. I feel this is really unfortunate. Filipinos have a hard enough time paying for medical care.
RP_drugs Link to PDF file of Philippine accredited pharmaceuticals.