One of the experiences in Thailand that adds to the exotic nature of this country, is visiting a pharmacy. Often surprising, a seemingly simple purchase can take on the aura of a covert operation. Many medicines that cannot be had without a prescription in most western countries are many times available over the counter. Take Valium, for instance. Not long ago, one could simply walk into a pharmacy here and leave with a small bag of the potent anti-anxiety medication. That practice was abolished recently, apparently because, as our neighborhood pharmacist tells it, too many "farong" (foreigners; read "Westerners") were walking around in a haze of the stuff. And not just teachers, although I'm sure there were a fair number of them. One now must have a prescription for the antidepressant. Note: In a recent conversation, a colleague assured me that yes, you still can get it without a prescription if you know where to go and who to ask!
If one has a sore throat, a trip to the doctor is not necessary. Your local pharmacist will load you up with antibiotics (as many different kinds as deemed necessary), antihistamines and fever reducers, throwing in one or two types of lozenges for good measure.
A recent trip by Kat (For some reason, these things happen to her a lot more than to me) to the pharmacist for lung congestion went like this:
"Do you have anything for a cough?"
"Certainly." Pulling out a variety of small boxes, "These lozenges are good for coughs."
"I don't want lozenges. They don't work well enough."
"I have these cough drops."
"No, I need something stronger. Do you have cough syrup?"
"Yes, this may work."
"I need something strong enough to help me sleep."
A pause, then leaning forward and whispering, "Ah, you want the Brown Mixture."
"Brown Mixture." Nodding slightly toward a shelf, looking briefly around the shop to see if others were listening.
"I don't understand."
"You want to sleep? Then get the Brown Mixture. Over there."
Picking up a small green and red box with a leopard and five stars, she reads the label, or tries to, as it is in Chinese and Thai, except for the ingredients, which includes: OPIUM TINCTURE.
"Seriously? You can sell this?"
Continuing to speak in low tones, the pharmacist replies, "Well, so far, yes, unless too many people buy it. Then, it might have to be by prescription only, like others."
Leaning forward and whispering in response, "I understand." And then, flipping sunglasses down a la James Bond, "I'll take it."
When one lives near the famous "Golden Triangle" where the poppy trade still flourishes, and in a region where opium was the only pain relief for centuries, when thought about, it shouldn't be unusual to find such products available legally in low doses.
By the way, Kat reports that the Brown Mixture works very well.