Prescription Drugs/Medications in the Philippines

 

india_drugs-3Prescription 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.

See http://www.gov.ph/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2001274&Itemid=2

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.

We have had good luck so far with ordering prescription drugs from Canada, India and the UK and having them mailed to us in the Philippines.  See our article HERE and HERE about our experiences.

Comments (12)

  1. Ed. thefilipinodoctor.com is a worthwhile site for researching doctors and hospitals. I prefer http://www.mims.com/Philippines/home/Index for researching medications because it genreally provides retail prices, aloowing one to shop for the least expensive option.

    “A more popular drug reference used by doctors and other healthcare professionals in the Philippines is called the PPD or Philippine Pharmaceutical Directory. This is printed annually and distributed to thousands of doctors nationwide. They own a website called TheFilipinoDoctor.com that patients can use to find various types of doctors all over the country. This includes specialties, clinic addresses and schedules. Drug information is also available through this website. It’s really so rich and yet so easy to use!”

  2. Here in the Visayas region I use Rose Pharmacy for most of my medications. They used to be cheaper than Mercury but now I think they are about the same price.
    They do have a discount card where when you buy anything you get points and then the points can be deducted on future purchases.

  3. Pingback: Philippine Essential Drugs List | My Philippine Life

  4. Question; can u get Cialis or Viagra in Phil without a perscription? Cant seem to find out one way or the other. Thanks.

    • You can get most drugs by just writing the name, dose and quantity on a slip of paper and presenting it to the pharmacist. Exceptions are benzodiazepines (such as Valium, Ativan) and opiate pain relievers. Although I have not tried to buy Cialis or Viagra, I would be surprised if you needed a prescription.

  5. I am a disabled vet andhave a lotof prescriptions including hydrocodone and diazapam-

    can I take these with me and or get them at the va there?

    • Hi Kelly,

      I’m not qualified to comment on the legalities, but I suggest bringing copies of your prescriptions with you and perhaps a letter from your doctor describing the prescriptions. Keep the medications in their bottles with the prescription information on them. Do not put any medications in your pocket when you travel. You’ll be frisked and if they find medications they will demand answers. Keep the medications in your luggage along with the documentation. Lots of us retirees need various medications. I don’t think the Philippine authorities are looking to hassle us. Valium is available in the Philippines via a special controlled substance prescription. I don’t think hydrocodone is available but other strong pain relievers are.

  6. ty for the article. i lived in west but moved here,well because it is inexpensive.

    for quality rxs at reasonable rates connex w/
    canadadrugs.com

    they are located in winnipeg, manitoba in canada.

    they charge usd #% to ship here. it takes usually less than 2 fortnights to arrive.

    ys bc

  7. Pingback: Prescription Drugs/Medications in the Philippines Drugstores, Drugs in the Philippines, Generic drugstores Philippines « Philippine Bargains

  8. Arnoldo,

    Please read http:///philippine-pain-management/ and http:///prescription-drugs-medications-philippines/

    I am not sure that Halcion (triazolam) is available in the Philippines. I too have sleeping problems, as did my father. I have been prescribed midazolam which is known as Versed in the US. In the US it’s only available as an injectable. It’s strong but I don’t like it. For me the best is zolpedium/Ambien, known here as Stilnox. I took it every night and was certain I could not sleep without it. Finally I ran out of it and just stopped taking it. I have generally ended up sleeping better without anything except maybe a shot of Tanduay rum!

    You’ll probably be able to find Philippine docs and pharmacies to prescribe and sell you sleeping medications but your quality of life will be better if you can stop taking the stuff or just sticking with zolpedium.

    Good luck and good sleep.

  9. Posted by arnoldo a. gonzales on 10.02.09 3:51 am

    Dear goiloilo; I am thinking of moving to the philippines. I was stationed there back in 1972 at clark ab. I would like for you to help me. I am retired disabled, i suffer from insomnia. I wonder how easy or hard it would be to find sleeping medication in the pharmacies. I use halcion .250 milligrams. I use up to 4 tablets a night. Could you help me on this. I heard that it is hard to get a prescription for controlled substances (medication). Thank you!

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