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Healthcare in Costa Rica > Costa Rica Healthcare & Health Insurance FAQ > Are my prescription narcotic medications available in Costa Rica?

Are my prescription narcotic medications available in Costa Rica?

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Narcotic medications are much more regulated in Costa Rica. Some are not available.

In a lengthy discussion about prescription med availability, newcomers ask expats about the availability of various prescription medications in Costa Rica. One woman asked, "We are seriously considering moving to CR but have one or two major concerns. Neiher my husband nor I are in the best of health, arthritis, fibromyalgia, herniated discs in back and neck, and pre-diabetic. We deal with several doctors here in the states but I believe most of our ailments can be managed by one or two good internists. Unfortunately, we have had to take prescription narcotic pain medication for the past several years and do not want to move anywhere where it would not be accessible. Does anyone know if there are such things as pain management clinics in CR and if it is extremely difficult to get prescribed methadone or oxycodone. I have MRI's and years of drs notes to back this up. Any help would be greatly appreciated."

An expat in Costa Rica replied, "I have similar medical issues (except for the pre-diabetes) and I can really empathize with your concerns. It has been a real challenge. In the states I was on MS Contin and Vicodin (among lots of other-non-narcotic meds). What I've discovered is: 1) there is apparently no Vicodin (hydrocodone + tylenol) in the country. 2) The only MS Contin that was available was an injectible which I was willing to get. My doc said that there was one pharmacy in Alajuela that had it. We drove down and when we got there the the pharmacist said there was no more in the WHOLE COUNTRY until January (this was late November) but if he could get more he'd call me. (It was going to cost $160 for my month's supply). I had already switched to Oxycontin at night (I still had some MS Contin from the states) so I asked the doc to prescribe it 2X/day instead of hoping to get the MS Contin. So now I take Oxy 2X/day ($140/mo.) and it is not as effective (the MS was extended release and I guess the Oxy isn't). I do not want to increase the dose, so I just stop functioning at about 6 p.m. and go to bed. I don't know anything about other narcotic meds. I get a little nervous every month when it's time to refill, because I don't know whether or if the oxy will be available. I would give anything to be off of these, but I also don't want to be bedridden and inactive, so I guess it's a trade-off."

Another expat advised, "Your narcotic pain medications, cannot be purchased 'over the counter' like many other medications can be, which is to be expected. While as a legal resident you would be covered for most medications, serious conditions would be better managed by the private facilities, as you suggest,. There may well be pain management clinics in San Jose, so you would be best to live in the Central Valley. It will take at least a year to get coverage by the CAJA and the private insurance, INS, will not cover you existing conditions."

"My wife used to take Vicodin periodically for arthritis and back problems in the USA, but as noted above, Vicodin is not available in Costa Rica. She was able to get a prescription for 10 mg Oxycontin, but that is stronger than what she prefers to take. There are two other less potent medications that can be purchased without a prescription: Oxa Forte (50 mg codeine + 50 mg Diclofenac) and Arcedol (30 mg codeine + 500 mg acetaminophen). And of course you can get ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and Aleve over the counter. I also take blood pressure and thyroid meds, available without a prescription," added another expat.

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About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Some of Betsy's more popular articles include 6 Best Places to Live in Costa Rica, 12 Things to Know Before Moving to The Dominican Republic and 7 Tips for Obtaining Residence in Italy. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

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Updated On: Apr 27, 2019

First Published: Apr 27, 2019

Expatriate Health Insurance

Get a quote for expat health insurance in Costa Rica from our partner, Cigna Global Health.
Get a Quote

Healthcare in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is has both public and private healthcare systems. When you become a resident, you must enroll in the public healthcare system (CAJA). Many expats use the public system for routine healthcare and have private expat health insurance for specialists, surgeries and emergencies.

Costa Rica is has both public and private healthcare systems. When you become a resident, you must enroll in the public healthcare system (CAJA). Many expats use the public system for routine health...

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Expats discuss their experiences giving birth in Costa Rica. Topics covered include public (CAJA) hospitals vs. private hospitals,high C-section rates, maternity coverage, dual citizenship, permanent residency for expat parents with babies born in Costa Rica, baby stores and formula options.

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