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Doctors' orders

September 23, 2007|Catharine Hamm

Question: My wife and I are planning to go to Spain and Portugal this fall. Both of us have to take prescription medication daily. Can you please advise on the rules and regulations for carrying the prescribed medication overseas while traveling?

Raj Dhami

Rancho Palos Verdes


Answer: Those of us of a certain age will remember how certain parental units gave us a lecture about drugs before we headed off to Europe in our wanton youth. Among the admonitions: "Even if it's just an aspirin, keep it in the bottle it came in!" and "If you don't know what some pill is, don't try it and don't try to bring it home!" And most important of all, "If you get arrested for drug possession, your mother and I are not going to bail you out!"

That I'm not rotting in some foreign jail suggests Father really did know best, and medical experts back him up.

"Medicine should always be carried in the original bottle from the pharmacy, so it really looks legal," said Dr. Michael Zimring, director of the Center for Wilderness & Travel Medicine, Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "You don't need a copy of a prescription for the average medication, but it won't hurt. And it is always a good idea to carry a copy of the Rx for your own benefit in case you lose your bottle."

And, just for added insurance, Dr. Victor Kovner, a San Diego travel medicine expert, wrote in an e-mail: "A [signed] note from the physician on letterhead with a list of medications, including the [physician's] license number and DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] number, is a good idea."

If you have one of those day-of-the-week medication minder boxes -- and they are a good idea for a trip, especially one on which you're having such a good time you can't remember whether it's Monday or Thursday -- don't put the pills in the little compartments until you get wherever you're going.

Both doctors suggest checking with the country you're visiting (the embassy or the consulate) just to be sure you don't carry in medications that aren't allowed. "If you have to carry narcotics . . . it would be a good idea to have a copy of the original prescription and a letter from your physician," said Zimring, whose book "Healthy Travel: Don't Travel Without It!" contains a host of tips on this and other matters.

And finally, if you acquire any medication abroad that isn't allowed in this country, leave it behind.

Because your mother and I are not going to come and bail you out.


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