Cheap prescriptions for travel health

Rodrigo Senna

Image: Rodrigo Senna

Travelers should be prepared with a first aid kit, of some sorts, at all times.  Travel puts people in new surroundings and situations that often leave them trying to solve a problem with just what they are carrying.  Having a first aid kit prepared can save time finding a local pharmacy or doctor when you are looking for basic medical care.  Often, cost is a barrier to  a budget traveler, when it comes to assembling their kit.  A great kit can be made without costing more than your hotel bill!

Prescription Medicines

Travelers like to be self-sufficient.  Carrying their own antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea, respiratory infections and urinary infections are common requests from travelers.  A visit to their doctor yield common prescriptions that often cost a lot of money.  Typical “traveler medicines” and uses:

  • Ciprofloxacin  (diarrheal illness, pneumonia, urinary tract, salt water infections)
  • Doxycycline (antimalarial, pneumonia)
  • Anti-fungal cream (skin infections)
  • Metronidazole (diarrheal, parasites)
  • Tmp/SMX  (urinary infections)
  • Amoxicillin (respiratory, ear infection)
  • Loratidine (allergy)
  • Benzonatate (cough)
  • Oral contraceptives (menstrual regulation, vaginal bleeding)
  • Promethazine (nausea/vomiting, motion sickness, sleep)
  • Cyclobenzaprine (muscle relaxant)
  • Dexamethasone (altitude sickness)
  • Ibuprofen (pain, fever reducer, anti-inflammatory)
  • Prednisone (dermatitis, allergy)

These medicines, plus many, many more are available on the WalMart $4 plan.  Checking with your doctor about the medicines you are getting for your trip and why you’ll need them can help decide what types are best suited.  Comparing what you’ll need, with your doctor’s help, against the WalMart formulary can save lots of money and still give you a usable medical kit.  The key thing is that you are getting what you’ll potentially need.

Generic Medicines

The thing about medicine is that is is expensive to make, too.  Pharmaceutical companies charge lots of money for a “brand name” drug versus a generic drug.  When a medicine has been around for long enough time for the patent protection on the medicine to expire (10-20 years), a generic form becomes available.  This generic form is often times much cheaper than the “name brand” medicine.  When speaking with your doctor about medicines to be prescribed, inquire about the generic form.  A great example of this is with antimalarial medicine.  Doxycycline is a very old medicine and is available as a “generic”.  This is exactly why it costs so little, as compared to Malarone. 

Buying Medicines Internationally

Packing space and forget-fullness are just a few of the reason why people end up buying medicine in foreign countries, not to mention the price difference.  Buying medicine in a foreign country depends largely on the country and their regulatory history.  I would feel very comfortable buying medicine from a reputable pharmacy in most developed nations.  The problems begin when the pharmaceutical regulations get lax, as can happen in less developed nations.  Fake medicine trade is a billion dollar business and can have lethal consequences.  South East Asia is notorious for poor regulation and a thriving “fake antimalarial” market.  Before buying medicine that is supposed to protect your health, make sure you are getting what you are paying for!  Look for a reputable pharmacy and ask around. 

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