Help me mail these drugs!
February 10, 2012 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I need to mail prescription medications from the United States to my son, who is doing student exchange in Brazil. How can I best accomplish this?

My son is going to be in Brazil for the next 11 months doing a student exchange program. We worked it out with his psychiatrist that the psychiatrist would continue to write 90-day prescriptions and we would then fill them in the U.S. and mail them to Brazil. The psychiatrist said he had patients in the past who have been abroad for long periods of time and that mailing prescription medications from the U.S. was possible.

The time has come that I need to get a batch of meds to my son, and as I am looking into the matter in detail, I am beginning to panic about how best to do this, and whether the drugs will get hung up in customs, having to pay insane customs fees on a 90 day supply of a psychiatric medication that is not Schedule I but that costs well into 4 figures, meds getting lost, stolen...

The psychiatrist said that DHL was the go-to carrier for such things, but (a) the DHL website is only giving me 1 option for a letter-size shipment to Brazil (global express) and quoting $130 for the privilege. Plus I'm seeing plenty of reports online that shipping medications through a private courier can be more problematic than shipping through the regular postal service.

Any advice or reassurance would be greatly appreciated!
posted by SomeTrickPony to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
The best thing would be for your son to contact the American embassy in Sao Paulo and ask them this question. Surely there have been other US citizens who need to get prescription medication sent to Brazil. I would not rely on the psychiatrist for this information, but rather someone in Brazil who knows how Brazil views prescription drugs being sent there from the US.
posted by dfriedman at 2:33 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, the consulate is in Sao Paulo.

The embassy is in Brasilia.

There is also a consulate in Rio de Janeiro.
posted by dfriedman at 2:34 PM on February 10, 2012

You can get most medicines OTC in Brazil, you should check if his medicines are OTC there.
posted by Joe Chip at 2:41 PM on February 10, 2012

Or he could go to a pharmacy there and ask them, at the least he could train his português.
posted by Joe Chip at 2:45 PM on February 10, 2012

I don't know if this still works, but when I lived in St. Petersburg/Leningrad, Russia in 1990, if you had an American Express card, the local American Express office would accept packages and mail packages via some sort of diplomatic pouch. It was the only reliable way to do mail. Also, they'd change money for you, if you wanted.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:46 PM on February 10, 2012

Have you talked to the coordinators of his exchange program? They've probably had some experience with this.

I'm actually a little surprised that they sent someone who was on required psych meds on exchange without having a fully thought out plan in place ahead of time.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:57 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yep. Listen to Joe Chip. Most of the stuff is OTC. They may also accept a US prescription there, at least in some pharmacies. Getting the stuff through customs will be a real headache if it does not clear. They may also charge a huge tax.

I but that costs well into 4 figures
Customs for many items can exceed 100%.

knows how Brazil views prescription drugs being sent there from the US.
Brazilians don't like gringoes, especially US gringoes. I am sure you could loosen things up when telling the ANVISA at the customs that "US drugs are _BETTER_ than Brazilian drugs"...
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:21 PM on February 10, 2012

PS: General advise if you decide to ship it - Have it shipped to the university or school, attention to Prof. XYZ. If addressed to a government institution the chances of "slipping through" are MUCH higher. Church may also be an option if he as an affiliation.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:24 PM on February 10, 2012

I had some meds shipped to me overseas in a small box through the US postal service without a problem. On the green customs form you just write something like "candy" or "cosmetics" in the section for what you're sending. This was shipped to the EU though, so can't say how it'd work out in Brazil.
posted by side effect at 3:26 PM on February 10, 2012

I've seen this happen four ways:

1. A friend studying in Eastern Europe had his mother send his medication to our school each month, via the regular mail (I'm not certain what kind, other than that we got letters and peanut butter cups in the same package, and no one seemed very concerned about the medication part of things.)
2. While in Eastern Europe, I got a prescription for half the pills I needed for the six months I'd be away. A visiting friend brought the other half. I'm not exactly sure how legal this was, and I'm surprised the medication wasn't seized.
3. A friend studying in France was able to have his prescribing doctor write a prescription for 5 months' worth of medication. This took some doing, and as I remember, he had to submit a lot of documentation. (The downside of this was that his medications were stolen going through customs in the airport, warned, I guess.)
4. A friend in South America had her doctor fax or somehow send her prescriptions to a more modern pharmacy, which then filled them.

If at all possible, I would suggest finding a way for his prescriptions to be filled locally.

There are a lot of options, but your son has a program coordinator, who has definitely dealt with this before. They will know what to do.
posted by punchtothehead at 3:32 PM on February 10, 2012

I had to ship prescription meds to an attorney in Canada (as part of my job) and it was a pain. Call the United States Postal Service and ask them. It's what I had to do and they told me where to find the proper forms to make it go smoothly.
posted by tacodave at 4:03 PM on February 10, 2012

I live in Brazil, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that people are giving you bad advice telling you that he can probably get his meds OTC here. That is flat out wrong. I have prescriptions written all the time, and meds can be even more tightly controlled here than they are in the States. He could get the prescriptions, but they would have to come from an accredited doctor. I do suggest that your son contact the consulate in São Paulo like someone mentioned above, as they can probably put him in touch with a bilingual doctor who can help facilitate getting his meds here. I think trying to ship them can become prohibitively expensive, and may end up being illegal.
posted by msali at 6:10 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Once he's speaking with a local pharmacist, he should be sure to bring his medication's scientific name and dosage strength; different countries may use different brand names or formulas. Ask his doctor if there are generic drug versions available/acceptable--still prescription, but usually less expensive.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:55 PM on February 10, 2012

knows how Brazil views prescription drugs being sent there from the US.
Brazilians don't like gringoes, especially US gringoes.

Wait, what?

Hey, I`m Brazilian. We love gringos! But we also have bureaucracy so epic there`s even a movie — BRAZIL — named after it.

Theoretically yes, you can import meds for personal use without paying tax. But the paperwork and red tape would probably be intense. It would help to know what the meds are.

Meds in Brazil are classified like this:

• OTC: just show up and buy. Some things that are OTC in the US aren`t here, and vice-versa.
• Red Band "Venda sob prescrição médica" — you SHOULD have a prescription for it, but you can buy without one.
• Red Band "Venda sob prescrição médica COM RETENÇÃO DA RECEITA" — prescription will be retained by the pharmacist. Can`t buy without a prescription. Prescription needs to have your name, address, national ID number, and the doctor`s registration number — what we call a CRM. Most psychiatric meds such as Prozac etc. will be in this category.
• Black Band "Venda sob prescrição médica, pode causar dependência" — may cause addiction. Ritalin, Xanax etc. are in this category. Prescription needs to have all of the above and be on special numbered yellow slips, will be checked by two pharmacists. Not all drugstore branches carry black band meds, phone ahead.

Additionaly, there's also a yellow band with a big G for generic meds; all meds with lapsed patents are required by law to have generic versions available, these are MUCH cheaper.
posted by Tom-B at 4:42 PM on February 12, 2012

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