How do I refill my prescriptions while abroad?
June 2, 2009 9:53 PM   Subscribe

What do I do about getting my prescription medications while I'm staying in another country?

I'm a student studying abroad in Wellington, New Zealand for a semester. I've had a pretty terrible time getting any sleep since I was about 14, but recently my doctor prescribed Ambien CR to me and it works like a dream (sorry about the cheesy pun).

Without it, I'm basically up until 4-5am. I've never spent this amount of time in a foreign country before, so I've never had to worry about filling prescriptions abroad. What do I do in this situation? Will this even be an issue? Anything is helpful, I'm completely in the dark right now and my doctor didn't seem to have much advice.

posted by c_griffin to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would be surprised if the pharmacy would fill a prescription not written in that country by a doctor authorised under its laws.

You should have got a letter from your doctor about your condition and how long they've been treating you etc, and then take it to a doctor in New Zealand, who can then write out the prescription for you (they may need to contact your doctor). It may not be too late - your doctor could still send this for you.

You could also try just taking your prescription along to the doctor and discussing it with them.

In general, for a stay of this relatively short duration (ie not years), you should have asked your doctor to write a prescription to cover that time, and filled it before leaving home. After all, you cannot guarantee that the specific medication you take will be available in another country (although it may well be).

You may also be able to get someone at home to fill it and post the medication to you, but this may be subject to delay, customs problems etc.
posted by AnnaRat at 10:12 PM on June 2, 2009

C, does your school have a medical clinic? If so, go to that.

Or are you near a pharmacy? Go to the pharmacy and talk to the pharmacist--they'll understand the situation and will be able to tell you what to do.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:34 PM on June 2, 2009

In a pinch (if you're unable to get your prescription), you could always try an over-the-counter (non-prescription) sleep aid and see if that works for you. Ask a local pharmacist for a recommendation.
posted by amyms at 10:43 PM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: You've got travel health insurance? It's now a condition for entering NZ on a student permit if you're not in one of the categories that makes you eligible for free or subsidised treatment.

Go to the student health service at the university, if there is one, or look in the campus phone book for a helpline that's either for medical matters or international students. Or both. See if you can get your regular doctor to fax you a letter detailing your prescription. Keep your receipts.
posted by holgate at 11:05 PM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: Many health insurance plans will allow a "travel override" to get more medication than they would normally cover if you're going to be out of the country. With a prescription from your current doctor, you should definitely be able to get 90 days from a US pharmacy, perhaps more: ask your pharmacist. From there, you can go to the clinic at your school in New Zealand to get more locally (Ambien ought to be available, it's a pretty common drug). I recommend against trying to have someone else pick it up in the US and ship it to you: Ambien is a controlled substance and this is likely illegal in the US, if not also in New Zealand. Needless to say, attempting to order it yourself from the web (truly legitimate pharmacy websites excluded) is a bad idea.

Also, quick tip: Ambien (not CR) is available in the US (and probably elsewhere) as generic zolpidem. If your difficulties are with falling asleep, not staying asleep, you could try the generic instead: it's the same drug, but doesn't last as long. Personally, it works just fine for me (occasional use for insomnia, not nightly use like you are though), and should be cheaper.

Finally, there is a lot of debate in the medical community about long term use of sleeping pills. It sounds like this is definitely working well for you now, but I'd seriously consider trying to see if you can address a root cause of your insomnia with your doctor, as you could well become tolerant to the drug's effects or become physically dependent on it with long-term use. At the very least, it's something to discuss with your doctor. IANAD, YMMV, etc...
posted by zachlipton at 11:13 PM on June 2, 2009

Best answer: Ambien or zolopidem aren't in the Pharmac schedule (see page 125) so it may not be available here (I'm still not totally sure if things not in the schedule can be bought here). The schedule is everything that is subsidised by the government, which won't apply to you anyway, so it's possible that Ambien can still be prescribed. A local pharmacist would be the best place to find out (google should find you a NZ based pharmacy with contact details) although emailing Pharmac directly might work too.

If you haven't come yet then it will be much less of a hassle to arrange with your doctor at home to prescribe you enough for the whole trip. This may even be necessary if you really can't buy it here. Just make sure you bring it in it's original, properly-labelled packaging and you have a note or prescription from your doctor in case you get searched at customs (details here).

If you're already here then it may be trickier. A local pharmacy will certainly be able to tell you if you can get this drug or not. If you can it could be very expensive since it's not funded. And if not you may need to try something else. Either way you'll need to see a local doctor, pharmacists can't fill your foreign prescription. If you have a student health centre where you're studying (Victoria Uni?) then definitely go there, they'll be used to dealing with issues like this. If not then presumably you have student travel insurance, the company that deals with that should have a doctor recommendation.
posted by shelleycat at 12:12 AM on June 3, 2009

Yay for Wellington! I'm also here and have gotten a prescription for an anti-anxiety/sleep drug.

I just went into a pharmacy on Lambton and asked if they knew of any doctors taking new patients and found a doctor really quickly that way.

It costs $80 to see a doctor if you're not a resident, which sucks, but prescriptions here seem cheaper than back home (Canada for me.)
posted by Flying Squirrel at 1:09 AM on June 3, 2009

Seconding the travel override. I just did this with my son's medication for an extended trip to London (three months, and the prescription is only usually filled monthly because it's a controlled substance).

What my doctor did was write a little note on each Rx slip stating that the pharmacy was to use a 'vacation override' because the patient was to be out of the country. Worked great, no problems.
posted by cooker girl at 4:27 AM on June 3, 2009

You should be able to arrange with your doctor and with your insurance to fill a prescription that will cover your entire trip. Just be sure you have several copies of a doctor's letter explaining the need for so much medicine in case you run into any questions with customs. Keep one copy of the letter in your bag with the medicine, and one with you while traveling.

Otherwise, ask your doctor, or a local or school adviser once you arrive, to recommend a doctor in Wellington who can write you a prescription. Your doctor can write a letter to that doctor explaining exactly what you need and that doctor can then write you a script.
posted by katopotato at 4:33 AM on June 3, 2009

Response by poster: @zachlipton Your last-paragraph concerns for a complete stranger are really sort of touching and I appreciate them. I'd been prescribed a very small dosage for a very short period of time in the past out of nervousness about prescribing something this strong for every night and in the hopes that it would just regulate my sleep cycle. This was a no-go, and the current situation is a sort of tentative experimentation and is subject to change in the future. The sleep certainly isn't the only thing taken into consideration when diagnosing, but the wealth of meds for other things I've been on in the past have done little to nothing to help the chronic sleep issues.

Anyway, the responses so far have been great and very helpful. I personally won't consider this resolved until I'm actually in another country not having to worry about it. But otherwise I'd say, future readers: your answer is probably in here. Resolved.
posted by c_griffin at 11:11 PM on June 3, 2009

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