Damned If You Do: France’s Prescription Catch-22

Prescriptions are hard to fill in France unless you see a doctor here.While we are on our vacation in Italy and France, we ran out of one of our medications. A prescription medication. We checked into our Airbnb in Cassis, Provence, and were delighted when the familiar green cross of a pharmacy appeared, right across the busy road. OK, great.

On my first visit to the Pharmacy Calcanque, we waited as we did every visit, for a long time while the friendly women behind the counter seemed to review every aspect of their patient’s health. Long conversations, much back and forth, and every time a big line waiting for their turn.

We found a pharmacist who spoke ‘a leetle English’ and showed her on a piece of paper the drug we wanted. “Oh no, you have to have a prescription for that,” she said.  So we took down the phone number and the shop’s email address and happily walked next door for a croissant. We’d call our doc when they opened in four hours and it would be easy. Right?

Then the first bad news. We reached the docs in the U.S. and they said no, you can’t email anything, it’s not secure. You have to get a fax number to get a prescription sent.  We looked down at the little plastic folder the pharmacy gave us and it had everything except a fax number. So we returned and got their fax number. Great!

Then Mary called her doc and they said no, they couldn’t fax anything for us. NOPE. But, the U.S. doctor’s office said, you can just bring the bottle to the pharmacy in Cassis–you have plenty of refills, so they will be able to fill it. We walked up the 66 stairs to our apartment and looked for that bottle….voila!  We were in luck. Now back out into the heat of June in Provence to our pharmacy people.

We waited a long time again as an elderly man in a neck brace seemed to need a whole lot of things…the discussion was animated, and nearly endless. OK, finally it was our turn, we hoped to get the blond woman who spoke more than a ‘leetle’ English, but no, we had to take the other one who knew just a tiny bit. She looked at us strangely when we proffered the bottle, examining it from every angle but without a smile.

“You need a prescription for this,” she said, ignoring the obvious. We told her about how U.S. law prohibits sending it by email. We asked about her fax number and she flatly said no. You can’t fax us a prescription, even though it’s a medication taken regularly. You need to see a doctor. They can see you today, in Cassis” she said brightly.

We remembered the parking situation in Cassis, where even a five-minute visit requires careful payment in a lot far, far from where we needed to go.  Visiting a doctor in Provence we don’t know in an office we probably can’t find, and explaining what our symptoms were in French?  NON!  The cost of the doctor’s visit plus getting just enough pills for five days was not worth it, let alone the parking headache and time. We’d just have to manage.

So there you have it.  Always count out how many meds you need because unless you want to meet a new doctor and then pay full price for the drugs, you’ll walk away empty-handed.  A vacation from your meds has just been prescribed.