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Traveling with syringes requires some security preparation

February 21, 2010|By CATHARINE HAMM | On The Spot

Question: I have to give myself medically necessary injections. I carry a note from my doctor stating that the injections are prescribed. What would happen if the Transportation Security Administration opened my luggage, checked or carry-on, and found needles inside?

Richard Showstack

Newport Beach

Answer: Assuming the syringes are for a legitimate medical purpose -- and in Showstack's case, they are -- probably nothing, says Suzanne TreviƱo, a spokeswoman for the TSA.

"We come across this every day with passengers who have special needs," she says. "They just need to package them [the syringes] with their medications so it's obvious they're needed for a medical reason."

Your journey through security also is going to be easier if you give the screener a heads-up that you have medical supplies with you, as a sort of preemptive move.

The American Diabetes Assn., whose website has an entire section devoted to diabetic travelers, and the TSA recommend that a doctor's note accompany your medications.

"The letter should explain what you need to do for your diabetes, such as take diabetes pills or insulin shots," the ADA website says. "It should list insulin, syringes and any other medications or devices you use." (Even if your condition is not diabetes, substitute the correct noun and supplies and the advice still makes sense.)

Just to be sure, take half your supplies in your carry-on bag and half in your checked luggage. And, as with all things medical, make sure you have more than you need, the recent East Coast weather being a good reminder of how necessary it is to be prepared.

You should also make sure you have prescriptions with you as well, for your medication and for your syringes. Not all states sell syringes without a prescription, and those that do sometimes limit the number you can buy.

How do you ensure that you're not going to run afoul of local laws about syringes, which can vary widely?

"Call the airport police in the state you're flying into and ask," says Kevin Coffey, a police detective and president of Corporate Travel Safety, which advises travelers on best safety practices. "If you don't get the answer you're looking for, keep asking for supervisors until you get the information you need."

The TSA's website notes that you can take an unlimited number of unused syringes (best to keep them in their original packaging, Treviño says, to keep from injuring inspectors) and an unlimited number of used syringes if they are in an approved "sharps" disposal container, which needs to be sturdy enough to ensure that needles do not penetrate it.

When it comes to all things airports, keep in mind you may need to allow more time because of explanations you may need to proffer, meds you may want examined by hand (there is some suggestion that insulin, for example, may not be stable if it is subjected to repeated X-rays) and the need to reduce your angst about missing your plane. In other words, give yourself a fair shot at making your vacation start stress-free.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every letter.

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