Asthma medicine in Asia: are there restrictions on import, and is it easily purchased?
January 23, 2011 10:04 AM   Subscribe

I take Clenil Modulite (Beclometasone dipropionate, a daily steroid) and Ventolin (Salbutamol, as needed) for my asthma, in inhaler form. I'm visiting Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Japan, Russia and Mongolia in the course of a backpacking trip starting next month. I want to take these medicines with me, but am finding it hard to find info about restricted drugs in these countries. Can you help?

I have taken these medicines into Japan before, though I took a doctor's letter stating that I had been prescribed them as this was advised for Japan. (I still have the letter.)

Can anyone point me to anything useful on the subject (or provide personal knowledge)? I'm more concerned about Clenil Modulite as it's a steroid, and because (if it is difficult to source in Asia) I would want to take 3 inhalers of it.

Also, how readily available are these medicines to purchase? Ventolin is apparently readily available in Bangkok so I'm guessing it would be available in most major Asian cities... what about the steroid?

Your help would be much appreciated!
posted by Kirn to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total)
I don't have any specific knowledge of those countries, but in principle it's unlikely that the Clenil Modulite is restricted in any way. The steroids used to treat asthma are completely different than the anabolic steroids that are often abused. There is no way to abuse the ingredients in your asthma inhaler, all they'd do is give someone really clear lungs no matter how much they took.
posted by TungstenChef at 10:50 AM on January 23, 2011

I'm told steroid asthma medications aren't available in Japan. Since I have asthma this makes me think twice about working there. But as an American tourist coming into the country many times, they've never given me any trouble about the various asthma inhalers in my carry-on. As I haven't been to any of your other countries, I wouldn't hazard to say what's likely or not. But I bet others with specific knowledge will chime in directly.
posted by Rash at 12:36 PM on January 23, 2011

It can be very hard to find western medicines in Mongolia. Sometimes, there is a Russian equivalent with a very similar, but not identical drug formulation, and one has to figure out what that equivalent is and the Russian name for it. It is common for pharmacies to run out of a particular medicine, and there can also be problems with "counterfeit" medicines. I would bring all the medicine you need for the duration of your trip. In my experience, you will be ok if it looks like you are only bringing enough medicine for personal use (not for sale to others). But an official-looking letter wouldn't hurt.
posted by scrambles at 7:49 AM on January 24, 2011

In China you can easily purchase asthma inhalers without a prescription. Many steroids (from prednisone to anabolics) are also freely available without a prescription. Medicine made by foreign companies will have "English names" in large type on the box, so the staff in any good-sized pharmacy should be able to help you find what you need. If in doubt, look in an online dictionary like nciku.
posted by lhp81 at 8:30 PM on January 24, 2011

That's really helpful, thanks everyone. In the absence of specific info for each country (I have emailed each embassy but not confident I'll get a reply) it sounds like I should be OK with bringing 3 of each + a letter. If there's any issue I'll hopefully be able to source more from elsewhere.

Please keep adding stories/thoughts if you have them though, hive mind.
posted by Kirn at 2:06 AM on January 25, 2011

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