What is the proper procedure for traveling with prescription meds, etcetera?

Based on two recent threads, I have several related questions. What is the proper, legal way to carry prescription medicines on your person? I thought that you had to carry them in a bottle with the correct prescription label, with your name on it, and varios other information to be legal? Haven’t people been prosecuted successfully for having pills, but no “prescription” on them to prove they were legally dispensed to them? I also thought that it wasn’t technically legal to carry more than one prescription medicine in a container, with no actual prescriptions for all of the medicines with you?

Also, what are the legal ramifications of leaving prescription medicines unattended, in an unlabled bottle, when you know that a theif is taking medicine from you? What if pills that look similar to the medicine that has been stolen are placed in the bottle, and the medicine being stolen secreted elsewhere? Say these pills carry more risk if ingested because of their nature? If the other medicine is stolen and ingested, is the theif alone to blame for this? Could you be prosecuted if the theif gets injured, and evidence were produced to show you might have left substitute pills for the theif to take, say posts made online? (Whether or not the prosecution is sucessful is another matter.)

This thread which is closed started the debate, and this thread is currently open. Am I completely in the wrong to think the person did intend for the look alike medicines to be stolen and ingested, but didn’t think things through, that they might actually have not considered the theif could become ill enough to need hospitalization? So many are speaking up against what I thought was right, that I thought I’d ask the legal experts what the truth is? Is the theif truly taking their own life in their hands, or is it a case of “bait” being set out with the intent to make another ill? How would a prosecutor look at this? Provide me with cites in “layman’s terms” explaining the legalites of this situation. (This isn’t even covering the idea of sharing prescription medicines, I believe it is accepted by all that this is illegal. This is also taking for granted that it is accepted, even by me, that the theif is wrong to steal medicines.)

Well, I can tell you about travelling internationally with prescription meds. Regulations of course vary from country to country, but generally if you have a small, personal supply (often defined as a month’s worth or less) then you don’t have to declare it. However, a copy of your prescription and a letter of explanation from your doctor may be required. For a larger amount of medication, you must have the proper customs forms as well.

It’s probably best to have things in the original prescription bottles in case you get stopped and searched, but I’ve never seen such a thing listed as an actual requirement. Since you asked for cites, I’ll just post a link to the American Embassy’s website about bringing prescription meds into Japan. You’ll see there’s no mention of what kind of bottles should be used.

I would be very surprised if the regulations for carrying prescription meds in your purse in your own hometown were stricter than those for carrying them across international borders.

I don’t think they are enforced in every case, but from what I understand, such laws are actually in place widely in the United States. I think this is for the purpose of prosecuting those who have “controlled substances” illegally, that is, without the legal form. The prescription label on the bottles is considered a legal form, just as the piece of paper your doctor gives you is a legal form IIRC.

For visiting the UK (from an embassy website):

The point about illegal substances is interesting, because these can vary widely from country to country - eg in some places codeine is available over the counter, in other’s it’s banned.

Oh, and that quote was from http://www.britain.org.nz/general/medicine.html

In the United States prescription medicines are also considered “controlled substances” from what I understand, it is just legal to possess them in certain strict circumstances. Am I correct on that? I know they are regulated heavily, and that the label on the bottles is a legal form, entitling you and you alone to ingest the medicine.

Who considers them “controlled substances” exactly? For example, insulin is a prescription medication in some States/cities IIRC, but not others. It’s not in Kansas, unless the law changed recently.

I’ve taken my insulin, syringes, glucagon shot kit, test strips, etc. to 11 different countries more times than I can add up, and I’ve never once been queried about them outside the US, even when I’ve been searched. The only time I’ve ever been harassed was in Baltimore, where a security guard said he was going to take my insulin and syringes and even my glucometer away from me and throw it in the trash, unless I immediately produced a doctor’s note - not a prescription, but a letter stating I had to have these items. Thankfully, being Ms. Super Paranoid traveler, I had two of them on me from different doctors. This was a very atypical event, however, and I have never once even been asked about a note in any of the 600+ flights I’ve been on.

When I was alone and traveling internationally, one thing I would do is pack a replacement supply of insulin, syringes, test strips, spare glucometer, and other items into a DHL package that was pre-addressed and which had the right customs form to my location overseas. If I somehow lost all my meds, even my emergency backup supply, all I had to do was call back and tell whoever was watching my house “take the DHL package out of the fridge to the DHL place, pay for fastest possible delivery to the address on the label”, and hopefully I’d get it within 2 days.

If they do a “secondary screening”, they really do appreciate it if you warn them in advance that you have syringes.

Yeah, with things like insulin, and probably epinepharine (sp?) it probably varies from state to state. Good point, Una Persson. I’d say that the laws concerning things like anti-depressants and anti-inflammatory agents are likely universal across the nation though. Do any lawyers have a cite stating this one way or another?

Let me add, I’m glad your encounter turned out well, and that you didn’t get your medicine confiscated. :eek: I think it’s regulations that aren’t widely enforced, but that can be by particularly strict “Barney Fife” types. I can still see why they were put into place though, and don’t necessarily disagree with the reasons or the precautionary measures of writing the regulations.

Not all prescription drugs are controlled substances. Only those listed in the controlled substance schedules I - V of the US Code are considered to be “controlled”.

Thank youQ.E.D..

If it was a legal requirement to always carry your pills in clearly labelled bottles, then they wouldn’t sell things like these - would they?

Yes, you are wrong in every particular. There is no law requiring private citizens to carry prescription medicines in their original containers. One must have a prescription to legally possess a controlled substance (i.e., “narcotics”), and if one cannot provide proof, one may regret not having that label, but it is possession without a prescription that is a crime, not transferring pills to a pillbox, daily dispenser, or other container. (It’s stupid to do so, because the information on the label is important, and one may eventually forget what pills are which, but it’s not illegal). Many law enforcement and quasi-law-enforcement personnel will confiscate unlabeled medications, but even when they’re legally allowed to do so, it doesn’t make carrying them unlabeled a crime (and many times they DON’T have the authority to do so – they’re just counting on your unwillingness to argue with a man with a badge and a gun).

You are also wrong in assuming, against her specific statements to the contrary, that the OP in your linked threads has maliciously left “poisonous bait” for the office pill fiend. She has said (or as much as said) that she thought removing the narcotics would solve the theft problem; she was surprised that anyone would steal antidepressants or anti-inflammatories. It’s assuming a lot to say that the pills must look the same, that she must have been fooled, that the OP MUST have known the other pills would be stolen, given that SHE finds them sufficiently distinguishable to keep them in the same bottle. It was a bit ugly for the OP to hope that pillhead takes them and gets sick, but as long as that wish is subsequent to the theft, it does not contribute to criminal liability. “I hope ye choke on it” is a common sentiment in our culture, and it’s not legally actionable.

You can never be prosecuted because you “might” have done something, or “might” have intended some consequence. Prosecutors must PROVE every element of a crime, and that includes mens rea – “guilty mind.” There are certain assumptions that a jury is allowed to make – e.g., that a criminal intends the “ordinary consequences” of his actions – but such allowances are too restricted to apply in this case. If my house is repeatedly broken into, and a VCR stolen each time, I can move my VCR into a locked room without fear that the thief will hurt himself while trying to steal something else.

And take note: it’s T-H-I-E-F, not “theif.”

As has been pointed out, it’s only for some medicines. I was only partially correct. Read the cite provided by Q.E.D. to see what I mean. Prescription medicines that are actually controlled substances are Codeine-N-Oxide, Chloral hydrate, Phenobarbital among others. I also found this site, which seems to back up my original impression. Cites:

I also found another site that I am still perusing, that covers the DEA’s policies on prescriptions and importation. DEA Info/U.S.A Laws and Regulations Importing Meds

Those are more meant for the home cazzle, they come open too easily in a purse. The pill bottles don’t come open as easily, as my mom found out.

Sure, they’re legal, and they’re nice to have at home. When one is travelling, however, the original bottle with a label is the best way to avoid getting your pills confiscated. What my mother does is empty out her pill case, carry her original bottles with her, and pack the case.

I have a similar story to Una’s. My mother has MS, and was on an injectable drug for it. She carried her own syringes, water, and other supplies in a little kit, similar to Una’s. She ended up carrying a doctor’s note at the behest of my father, who is a pharmacist. Even though the original container was labeled from the pharmacy, and even though the individual vials were obviously intact, his experience has been that patients who take injectable drugs are occasionally hassled as “junkies”, and that a doctor’s note is the best thing to have.

My own experience has been that guards will raise an eyebrow over anything. When I was pregnant, I flew quite a bit. I had a prescription bottle of prenatal vitamins, and a guard questioned that on the basis that vitamins were over the counter, so why did they need a prescription? I told him it was cheaper that way.


Yeah, my thoughts were that it is just the best thing to do, to avoid the hassle. It seems that the regulations do vary a noticeable amount from state to state.

They may be intended for home use, but I thought of them because my Grandparents used to use them whenever they went on a trip (theirs was only a seven compartment version rather than the 27 compartment version in my link). They thought it was better to only have what they need rather than carrying boxes and bottles of extra pills. Besides, if it’s not legal to keep pills in any packaging other than what they originally come in, then how is it of consequence that these are designed to mainly be used in the home? It would still be against the law if there was such a law, wouldn’t it?

Based on two recent threads, I have several related questions. What is the proper, legal way to carry prescription medicines on your person? I thought that you had to carry them in a bottle with the correct prescription label, with your name on it, and varios other information to be legal? Haven’t people been prosecuted successfully for having pills, but no “prescription” on them to prove they were legally dispensed to them? I also thought that it wasn’t technically legal to carry more than one prescription medicine in a container, with no actual prescriptions for all of the medicines with you?


I don’t believe this is true. For one thing, what about all those esthetically pleasing pill carriers they sell? And what about those contraptions with compartments for each day of the week, so you can get your pill regimen set up in advance? My pharmacy GIVES those to patients with multiple prescriptions – I hadly think they would do that if carrying more than one prescription drug in a container was illegal, now would they?
And there must be people like my mother: she takes seven prescription drugs each day, on varying schedules. (Morning only, twice a day, with every meal, etc.) When she travels, or even if she’s going to just be away from home for a meal or two, she takes along all the pills she needs to take in one of those snack-sized baggies: they’re light, don’t take up much room in her purse, and she can just toss the baggy after taking the pills.

Are you REALLY saying she’d have to carry up to four separate prescription bottles in her purse every time she goes out to dinner? How ridiculous.

Argue with the legislators, I can see why they made the regulations, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sigh at the extra trouble I have to take to stay within the concievable bounds of the law.

It’s also very important to know the quantity of the drug that you are legally allowed to transport across the border.

My grandparents own a vacation house on the Tex/Mex border. Years and years ago, I remember that there was a story that the local media was following intesely. Apparently, an American girl had gone acorss to border to have her prescriptions filled. She was arrested by the Mexican authorities at the border for trying to “smuggle” too much of her prescription medication (Valuim) back into the United States.

I’m sure she must have done something else wrong, such as not declaring her purchases at customs, or possibly, she was even doing some sort of prescription fraud-- I don’t know. My only point is that it’s probably better safe than sorry. If you’re going to be abroad for an extended period of time and need to take larger quantities with you, I’d suggest calling the embassy of the particular country to make sure that you’re legal.