Monday, May 23, 2011

Staying Healthy In Thailand: Medications

Left to right: Tylenol Cold, a Thai prescription medication and a form of good old Immodium

We've covered a few health-related topics here, including circadian clocks (your natural internal body time), the possible "rumbly tummy" from eating strange food, going to the hospital, staying healthy while traveling by air and things you can do to stay healthier while in Thailand, to name a few. Today I thought I'd share a few things about medications in Thailand; those brought with you for existing problems or health conditions and those you may need while you're there.

First and foremost let me say I'm not a doctor. Many of us like to think we are when the alternative is to go see one instead of trying to treat ourselves with a cornucopia of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, salves, creams and the likes, but there's no substitute for a qualified medical opinion. So there. I have, however, had some input from a few doctors I'm friends with here and there.

Most OTC things you'd find at home are also available in Thailand. You can walk into a pharmacy wherever you are (or a Boots or Watson's chain drug store if you're less adventurous) and find antacids, cold medications, first aid supplies, stomach and intestinal distress medications and such things readily available - rather like the examples up top today. If you look around there are pharmacists who will go a bit beyond (or well beyond) their authorized limits to help you get something it's clear you use and are in need of, but remember that any type of controlled substance will land you in the Monkey House just as quickly if you got it from a pharmacist without a written prescription. Don't push your luck.

It's wise to bring any prescription medications in their original containers - especially if you'll be returning to your home country with any of it left. As an added precaution I bring a copy of my prescription with me just in case I'm ever asked for it when re-entering the US, but that's admittedly more than likely overkill. I've spoken with folks who were asked "what's this?" when entering Thailand, though - and having a baggie of pills with nothing to back it up cost one of them their medications and a couple hours of explaining. His medications were held, tested and sent to him at his hotel... along with a hefty bill for lab testing them.

Many of us tend to travel with prescription medications of one form or another. I urge people I know to talk to their doctors before going to Thailand and ask them what alternative medications they could use if their regular medicines run out or are lost, stolen or spoiled in some way. This goes for ALL meds taken regularly.

Western Baby Boomers are aging after a lifetime of questionable lifestyles and dining habits, and that's leading to a dramatic increase in cases of high cholesterol, hypertension and type II diabetes as examples of a few you read of more often than others.

Take type II (non-insulin dependant) diabetes, for example. You'll probably be fine in Thailand if you're on generics for your Type II, but some common brand name drugs used to treat it are not available in Thailand. If your doctor can be made aware of what the purpose is of the name brand they can probably find something close that will suffice at least until you're back home. For example - Actos is a diabetic med that isn't available in LOS, but is VERY similar to the generic acarbose, which is.

If this is not your first trip there or you otherwise know for sure your regular medications are available in Thailand - and can be bought cheaper there, which is sometimes the case - you might consider taking an original prescription slip with you (and a photocopy) and have it filled there. With a copy of the scrip it isn't a problem to bring them through customs back into, say, the USA. Your home doctor may not be comfortable writing you an extra copy, but as they know what the high costs of prescription drugs are many will. It never hurts to ask.

Please be aware that quality control in manufacturing may vary from country to country, so I personally might hesitate to buy a medicine that was keeping my heart beating from a source I wasn't 100% confident about, but that's up to you, of course.

On my first visit to Bangkok Nursing Hospital I came out of there with four prescriptions, I believe. They were all strange to me, but they did the trick and cost me next to nothing.

Speaking of diabetes: unless you're adamant about using Splenda (sucralose) you'll again probably do fine finding Equal (aspartane) or saccharine. I brought back a variety of sweeteners for a friend one trip, and some of them are below:

I'll be sure to pass on any other tips that may arrive in email, but the bottom line is this: as in many other areas of travel if you do your research and prepare for potential problems you don't have any legitimate worries about medications while you're in Thailand.

One added tip: many medications are heat and humidity sensitive. I keep the few I bring (in their original containers) in a cool spot and in a sealed zip-lock baggie - especially things that easily absorb moisture and crumble, like a regular aspirin tablet. You'll notice that prescriptions in Thailand (such as the one up top today) come already sealed in baggies.

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