Hospital Drug Scam

My mind was both in neutral and in need of caffeine while I waited for the cashier to tell me how much I owed. My wallet was light so I assumed no matter what amount she said that my response would be that I needed to go to the wall of ATMs located conveniently nearby.

“Your total is 5515 Baht.” she said ($184)

“OK, I have to go to the …. WHAT! Can I see the detail on that?” I said.

Welcome to the Thai hospitals prescription drug scam. I’ve read they all do it. Everything involving prescription drugs in two hospitals and one clinic I’ve been in confirm that. First some background.

It seems that the only prescription drugs that actually require a doctor’s orders are the recreational ones. Otherwise walk into a pharmacy, show them an empty pill bottle or plastic bag with your name, a doc’s name and the drug’s name and you’re set. For many drugs all one needs is the drug name and dosage. It’s worked for me, though for a drug with little or no potential harm from misuse.

A prescription in Thailand is an order that travels between the doc and the cashier. The patient never sees it. You can’t take it to another pharmacy. The hospital wants the profit from buying drugs they know can be found elsewhere for less. I’ve read it’s not easy to just say no, but it’s easy to say one wants only a week’s worth. That way one can assess both the efficacy and if the side effects are tolerable. Not wanting to throw away drugs one can’t take because of side effects was my mantra. Walked out with a seven day supply and a bill of 1829 B ($61)

Is ‘scam’ too strong a word? Nope. They tried to sell me 45 pills, which is also a 45 day supply. This is after the doc told me to come back in 30 days so he could see how I was doing and reduce the dosage. Thus they tried to sell me a 15 days supply of pills I’d never take. That’s a scam. But at least they do hand you the drugs in a classy shopping bag.

[Update Apr 8, 2011] No side effects from the drug so went to Hua Hin’s big pharmacy (which is not a ‘drug store’ like Boots or Sav-on) and found the drug for 20% less than the price at Bangkok Hospital.


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