For many East Valley senior citizens, the lure of cheap prescription drugs in Nogales, Mexico, isn’t worth the risk of being thrown into a Mexican jail.
But heightened concern over a prescription drug crackdown in Nogales hasn’t stopped retirees from buying their medication in other border towns.
The high price of American pharmaceuticals gives them no other choice, they say.
"We live on a very fixed income, and if not for our ability to go down there, we wouldn’t be able to get (my husband’s) medication," said Karen Tafoya, 54, of Apache Junction. "I don’t know where it would come from. . . . We’re being pushed into a corner."
Since May, 12 Arizonans have been arrested on federal drug charges by Nogales authorities targeting people who buy tranquilizers or painkillers without legitimate Mexican prescriptions.
One is 66-year-old Ray Lindell. The Phoenix man has been jailed since May 19 for buying Valium for his wife with an American prescription.
According to Mexican law, an American prescription must be presented to a Mexican physician, who will rewrite the prescription and fill it legally.
As a result of the arrests, retirees say they are shifting their business to Algodones, Mexico, where they say pharmacies cater more to their needs and rarely require prescriptions.
"We won’t go back to Nogales," Tafoya said. "We’ve gone to Algodones and always felt very safe. It seems like a whole different environment there."
Valley tour companies send busloads of seniors, at $39 per person, to the small border town west of Yuma each week to fill prescriptions.
"I’ve never had a problem there," said Ken Cosgrove, 72, of Mesa. "If the drugs are available and I’m not breaking the law, I will continue to go back."
Many who take the tours said they receive no information from the tour companies on how to buy medication legally in Mexico.
Not that it matters.
"We go there all the time and we’ve never been asked for a prescription," said Rodney Kleck, 74, of Mesa, who drove to Algodones on Wednesday to buy $315 in medication. "When we ask the people at the drug stores, they say it’s not a problem."
The U.S. Embassy Web site warns that Mexican public health laws concerning medications are unclear and often enforced selectively.
Tafoya said she will be more cautious from now on.
"Since we heard (about the arrests), it’s worth the $15 to $20 extra to see a Mexican doctor, even though pharmacies told us that we didn’t need a prescription."
Evelynne Scharping, 67, said trips to Mexico may be out of the question altogether.
"It’s scared me. I won’t be doing anything like that down there, especially when they’re not consistent about what they’re picking you up for," said Scharping of Apache Junction, who usually travels to Mexico with out-of-town guests. "I’m leery about buying anything other than a T-shirt."