Your medications are such an ingrained part of your life that you hardly give them a second thought. But when you’re traveling abroad, you must give them a second and even a third thought, not only because you must maintain your routine but also because you need to stay out of trouble with the authorities. You want to spend time in the country, not in the clink.
A reader brought this to my attention by asking a question about Adderall, a medication often prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. She was traveling to Asia and had learned that it is not allowed in her destination.
Adderall is a stimulant, said Dr. Glenn Hardesty, an emergency room physician with Texas Health Plano. “It does not produce the effect that an amphetamine does,” he said, “and it is technically different.” But, he noted, customs or other officials and a country’s law may not see it that way.
That’s just one of the medications that might set off alarm bells. Another: Sudafed, which can be used in making meth.
But mostly, Hardesty said, “It’s the narcotics and psychotropics that cause concern, and it’s hard to know what countries will have problems (with their import) and which will not.”
Therein lies the problem. There is no central place to find out which country will allow Xanax, Ambien, Valium or other drugs — and which will not.
The International Narcotics Control Board, which describes itself as an “independent, quasi-judicial expert body for the implementation of the United Nations international drug control conventions,” can be a starting point. It has information on countries’ policies, but some of that information is ancient or incomplete, and some countries are absent.
What’s a traveler to do? Here are some tips from professionals.
Routine medications such as those for blood pressure generally aren’t a problem, Hardesty said. But, he added, “As a general rule, medications that are considered problematic here probably will be problematic elsewhere.” Those are the ones, he said, that you can’t walk into a drugstore and buy off the shelf.
Call the embassy or consulate of the country you are planning to visit and ask specifically about that drug. Find out also whether there is a limit to the amount you can bring into the country, said Victoria Sowards, director of wellness and nursing resources for Passport Health, which offers immunizations and counseling to people who travel internationally. Too much of a medication may make it appear as though you are trafficking, Hardesty said.
Carry with you a letter from your doctor that gives the name of the medication — brand as well as generic names — the dosage and why it is prescribed. If you’re carrying syringes for insulin injections, a letter explaining why you have them may be helpful.
Having a copy of your prescription with you is also a wise move, said staff of the International Association for Medical Assistance for Travelers, a nonprofit organization focused on traveler health. You may not be able to fill that prescription, but the organization can provide information about local doctors who may be able to write you a prescription.
If your medication could raise eyebrows, talk to your doctor to see whether there’s another medication that can help. In no case should you go without that medication, said IAMAT staff, who noted that the nonprofit can help you find a doctor at your destination.
“We maintain a list of reputable English-speaking doctors around the world,” its e-mail said. “Our members can contact a doctor before or during their trip to confirm availability of a medication or make an appointment.”
When you pack your medications, make sure they are in their original bottles with the patient’s name on the bottle, Sowards said. And you should carry only your own. “Mrs. Jones should not be carrying Mr. Jones’ prescriptions,” she said.
When you pack those medications, make sure they are in your carry-on bag in case your checked bag goes astray. Even though you won’t let your carry-on bag out of your control, affix a luggage tag just in case.
One final thought: If you have a chronic condition, Sowards said, consider medical evacuation insurance. Medications and evacuation insurance can keep you going in the right direction.
(Have a travel dilemma? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.)
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