NOT LONG AGO, WHILE VACATIONING IN THE SUN-BLEACHED Mexican port town of Manzanillo, I encountered the future of the American medical system. It wasn't a hospital or an HMO. It wasn't even one of those hard-scrabble clinicas that have become so familiar in parts of Los Angeles or New York or Houston these days. It was a farmacia, its owner fanning himself in the midday heat.
"Prozac?" I inquired, using my best gringoese. "Do you carry Prozac?"
"Si, senor" replied the druggist. "Cuanto?"
How many? Mexican pharmacists have rolled out that beautiful question to curious norteameri-canos for decades now; what was traditionally preceded by a lengthy doctor's visit and costly prescription in the United States could almost always be secured mas directamente in Mexico. No questions asked, either. But the difference is fading when it comes to the availability of drugs, we're starting to look like Mexico. This strange epiphany came to me while I was still in Manzanillo, when I happened across some American magazines and, flipping through them, was struck by the myriad "Ask Your Physician About . . ." advertisements exhorting readers to try new medications for high blood pressure, prostate enlargement, ulcers, and other ailments. "Without a prescription!" advised one. After returning to the…