September 17, 2014
Answers to Questions About Traveling With
Medications, Supplies

Washington, D.C.—With many empty-nesters choosing to take trips in the so-called “shoulder season” after school starts but before the holiday season begins, pharmacists tend to get a lot of questions about international travel with prescription medications.

Among the main concerns are how to avoid travel delays when departing from or arriving in the United States. Other inquiries are about getting past airport security with some types of medications, especially liquids.

In a recent Drug Info Rounds presentation hosted by the FDA, Lt. Lindsay Davis, PharmD, of the Public Health Service answered some of the most common questions.

“The first precaution is that patients should not assume that prescription medications that are approved in one country are approved in another,” Davis pointed out. “Travelers coming into the U.S. should be aware that their products may be illegal here.  The same applies to travelers leaving for other countries.  They should contact the country they are traveling to for advice.”

Davis also noted that approved indications may not be the same across international borders.
Pharmacists should recommend that travelers take complete information about their prescription medications with them, including brand and generic name of the drug, the dosage form and strength and how often it is used, she advised.

Without that, Davis cautioned, “in the event they require medical attention, treatment could be delayed or made more difficult without sufficient information available about the product.”

The presentation explained that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows passengers to bring medications in tablet or other solid form through security screening checkpoints, as long as they are screened. 

Davis recommended that passengers inform security personnel about medications, which should be separated from other luggage before screening begins. While medication usually is screened by x-rays, passengers have the option to ask for an inspection instead, she said.

In addition, the TSA states on its website that with proper notification and documentation, medically required liquids, such as medications, creams, and breast milk are permitted to be brought on aircraft and are not required to be in a zip-tip bag. Those products in carry-on baggage also can exceed the usual limit of 3.4 ounces and do not necessarily have to be in plastic bags.

The TSA also will permit accessories required to cool medically necessary liquids—such as freezer packs or frozen gel packs—as well as supplies associated with the liquid medications, including IV bags, pumps and syringes, although the items may be subject to additional screening.

Additional advice from the FDA includes:

• When possible, prescription medications should be in their original containers with the prescription information label;
• If medications aren’t transported in their original containers, it is essential that travelers have a copy of their prescriptions or letters from their doctors about the prescriptions;
• No more than personal use quantities should be taken on a trip; a 90-day supply is a good rule of thumb, according to the agency.

Those hosting guests from other countries should be made aware that a valid prescription or doctor’s note is required for all medications entering the U.S.

For other questions, pharmacists should recommend that travelers contact the FDA, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, or the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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