Pharmacies : Tips for Buying Medication - Safety Issues

Tips : Buying medicine in Bangkok.

You may be taking some rather expensive medication (if you have to pay for it yourself, and not your insurance). It is worthwhile to check out what is available in local pharmacies in Bangkok. A lot of currently used popular drugs are imported and on sale for a price (we think prices of most drugs are somewhat cheaper than in the Western world). Of more interest are those drugs that have proven efficacy and have been around for a while. Some of those are produced locally (patent expired already) and are really cheap.

As an example we can quote simvastatin (well known under the name Zocor). While the imported (original) version costs up to 50 baht a tablet, it is also possible to buy the locally produced version at 42 baht for 10 tablets of 10 mg, under de brandname Zimmex, produced by Silom Medical Co. Ltd.) So you can get this medication at about 10% of the price of the original!!!
Now if the pharmacist sees you coming, he or she will certainly want to sell you the expensive medication first, so you have to be prepared and ask for the brandname mentioned above. The same applies for other drugs, just ask for the locally made product, and ask in different pharmacies!


Drugs Safety and Efficacy

Some years ago, in 2007, a study conducted by the Hospital Association of Thailand was mentioned in both English-language newspapers in Thailand.
According to this study about 5 per cent of all drugs prescribed in Thailand are below standard. 7 out of 137 selected drugs covered in the study had less active ingredients than the amount stated. Only drugs used for treatment of heart and coronary ailments were tested, apparently in state hospitals, which account for 40 % of drugs dispensed in Thailand (20 % are distributed by private hospitals, and the rest by pharmacies).
From our understanding the problem seems to be related to improper storage and logistical problems. Exposure to heat, sunlight and humidity are involved.

Be aware, that a lot of small street pharmacies, operate without air-conditioning!

What it does stress, is the need to properly store any medicine purchased. Any advice mentioned on the packaging should be followed. Indeed, some medications and topical drugs like creams and ointments are better kept in the refrigerator. We noticed also that even some brand name drug tablets, can become brittle when kept at room temperature.

It may be wiser to acquire only recently manufactured products. In the case of creams and ointments, we would be particularly careful.