It’s a Sunday morning and hundreds of people are moving through the Crows Landing Flea Market near Modesto. Rows of vendors are set up under tents selling their goods. Guiding me through the flea market is Cristina Correa with the California Medical Association Foundation. She spots a card table at one stand openly displaying dozens of bottles of medication.
“There’s tetracycline, a lot of creams at the table, there’s amoxicillin, ampicillin so there’s a lot of medications here for people to use, mainly creams.”
Correa is trying to raise awareness in the Latino community about the proper use of antibiotics. She says displays like the one in front of us are common.
As we walk down a crowded aisle, we find 24-year-old Armando Rivera. He emigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was five. Rivera says he doesn’t have health insurance and gets medicine at a flea market when he needs it.
“My mom’s like, as soon as I get a sore throat it’s like we’ve got to go to the flea market and get some penicillin.”
Cristina Correa says it’s part of the culture for many Latinos to buy medication at the flea market. She says this is because in countries like Mexico, for example, the rules are different.
“You don’t need a prescription over there to buy these medications. The pharmacist is somebody that’s easily available in the community. They sell you stamps, lottery tickets, ice cream, nail polish. Kind of like what we’re seeing here.”
None of the flea market vendors wanted to talk to us but Correa says she’s heard many of them bring the drugs back from Mexico. Not everyone who comes to these flea markets buys medication, like Crisitina Figueroa. Correa translates for me.
(Correa translating): “She’s not the type of Latina that would purchase medications here that she would only purchase them from a licensed pharmacist or from a doctor who would prescribe them.”
Medical authorities don’t want people buying drugs at flea markets because they can be misused. Dr. Dean Blumberg is with UC Davis Medical Center. He says when people overuse drugs they're less effective in treating problems like bacterial or pneumococcus infections of the ear or sinuses.
“They can develop resistance to penicillin or other commonly used antibiotics and then new strains of pneumococcus
then become more prevalent in the community and are more likely to cause infection.”
At the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, spokesman Royjindar Singh says they weren’t aware of prescription drugs being sold in swap meets. A challenge is that medicine transactions are usually in cash, so there are no hard numbers on how much money is actually changing hands. But now Singh says they’re going to investigate.
"You can’t sell prescription drugs without having the proper licenses, the proper facilities and the proper people to sell it to you.”
Back at the flea market Armando Rivera says he understands the risk for antibiotic resistance and that it’s illegal but convenience and affordability will keep bringing him back to get penicillin.
“Since not many people have insurance it’s like lets go get some stuff that we know and we can get it from the flea market.”
And Cristina Correa says this is what she’s up against. For many Latinos buying drugs at the flea market is just what they do. That’s why she’s working on getting funding to launch an educational outreach campaign about antibiotics. Because she says you can always find a flea market.