flying with prescription drugs
June 22, 2008 10:24 AM   Subscribe

My doctor gave me a dozen Vicodin for back pain. I just realized that the bottle doesn't have my name on it. I'm getting on an international flight in a few hours. Will this be a problem? Flying from the US to the EU.
posted by mrunderhill to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
do you have a copy of the prescription with your name on it?
posted by humanawho at 10:42 AM on June 22, 2008

Not on me, unfortunately.
posted by mrunderhill at 10:45 AM on June 22, 2008

You could put them in a bottle from some non-prescription pills, like those travel packs of Advil or whatever, to ease your mind. I always find a more convenient container than the original prescription bottles when I'm travelling, and neither TSA nor customs has ever even looked at my pills.
posted by nowonmai at 10:52 AM on June 22, 2008

Pack the bottle in your carry-on bag, not in your checked luggage. I travel to and from the United States several times a year with prescription medication, and I've never had an agent at a security checkpoint ask to see a bottle in my bag.
posted by jjg at 10:57 AM on June 22, 2008

From the TSA,

"Medications must be labeled so they are identifiable."
posted by nitsuj at 11:03 AM on June 22, 2008

Can your doctor fax you a letter or something?

Barring that, don't conceal them and don't mix them in with nonpresciption pills. That's incriminating and looks like you've done something wrong, when you haven't. Trust me, the people searching your bags will know what Vicodin looks like.
posted by jayder at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2008

I've carried prescription pills across all sorts of routes, including into the US and EU, and I've never been asked about them. In Australia you have to declare them, but they mainly give it a cursory glance. However, carrying a doctor's letter (use jayder's fax suggestion) would be quite helpful in case anything pops up.
posted by divabat at 11:20 AM on June 22, 2008

I've never been asked about prescription pills, including when they're loose in a pillbox.

That said, did you get your scrip filled at a chain pharmacy? Perhaps they can fax/e-mail you that personalized "informational pamphlet" that they give you with your pills that you throw out immediately if you're like me.
posted by desuetude at 12:06 PM on June 22, 2008

I've never been asked about pills either, but don't try to conceal them. See if you can get that faxed letter. If not, I wouldn't worry too much.
posted by Koko at 12:14 PM on June 22, 2008

You could put them in a bottle from some non-prescription pills

If this were allergy medication that would be fine. Trying to hide narcotics like this is a really bad idea. Would it work out? Probably. But the worst case scenario gets a hell of a lot worse when you try to conceal narcotics.
posted by Justinian at 12:20 PM on June 22, 2008

Stick them in a daily pillcount box thing if you're paranoid. I wouldn't worry about 10 common and legal pills being in a different smaller bottle, even if they are technically a narcotic. They're legal. There's 10 of them. Mix them in with a couple bottles of vitamins or whatever, and they'll slip by. Now if it was 200 painkillers, I'd order the fax copy of the info from the doc.
posted by Listener at 12:40 PM on June 22, 2008

May be, may not be. You'll probably be fine, I don't recommend putting them in a bottle that is labeled differently but rather to just be honest if they look. See if you can look up your doctor's number before you leave and maybe print out his office listing on the internet - that way you can ask if you can call your doctor to verify and prove it isn't your friend Moe.

Depends on how they're feeling, but I did that in the same situation (unlabeled drugs, not the same drug) and they let me through with it.

If they take it, ask if they'll sign something saying they took it so you can request a replacement scrip from your doctor when you get back, if you want it.
posted by arnicae at 12:56 PM on June 22, 2008

They are not going to look that closely at the bottle, but having them in a 'legit' bottle without your name is better then putting them in another bottle.
posted by delmoi at 12:58 PM on June 22, 2008

I wouldn't worry about 10 common and legal pills being in a different smaller bottle, even if they are technically a narcotic. They're legal.

By this logic methamphetamine is also legal since you can get a prescription for Desoxyn. But hiding methamphetamine in your bags would be a REALLY BAD IDEA. The question is whether or not the OP can prove he has a legal right to possess narcotics.

OP: Leave them in the legal bottle. Things are likely to work out either way, but the downside of having them in a legal bottle is a lot less of a downside than if by some fluke they caught you trying to smuggle narcotics. Yeah, you could eventually prove you had a prescription but it could be rather uncomfortable in the meantime.
posted by Justinian at 1:06 PM on June 22, 2008

I've never had any pills in any container questioned in over 1,000 flights. I guess it could happen, though, and indeed their policy is that you need to be carrying the prescription.

So if the security guys in the US complain, just shrug and say "fine, throw them away, then." It's not like you're doing anything criminal, and any doctor anywhere you're going will replace them for you. If customs on the other end (EU) complains, see below...

But the worst case scenario gets a hell of a lot worse when you try to conceal narcotics.

No, not really, since the poster has a prescription. It'd just be a pain to verify. Do this if and when you need to. If a customs official in the EU really holds you up over this, ask them to call your doctor or whatever while you wait. They'll make you sit 10 mins to see if you get panicked, and then let you pass anyway.
posted by rokusan at 1:08 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

No, not really, since the poster has a prescription.

I won't belabor the point anymore; I know people who have taken prescription medication through airports in unlabeled bottles and the results were a lot more inconvenient and annoying than "sitting for 10 minutes". No, you won't go to jail since you have a prescription. But it resulted in missed flights, lost money, etc.
posted by Justinian at 1:44 PM on June 22, 2008

Can your doctor fax you a letter or something?

Good luck contacting me and getting me to fax you a letter on a Sunday morning.
posted by neuron at 1:58 PM on June 22, 2008

In the UK at least, it's possible to get tablets similar to vicodin over the counter at pharmacies (one brand name is Paramol). I'd expect this to be similar in other EU states. The paranoia about opiates that's so common in the US is not quite as strong this side of the Atlantic. You should probably check the drug laws of the countries you'll be visiting, but I'm fairly sure that you'll be flying into them with drugs that are, not just legal with a prescription, but legal without any kind of prescription at all.

To put it another way, if you're worried, leave the tablets at home and buy them when you get to your destination.
posted by xchmp at 2:28 PM on June 22, 2008

Or I could be talking rubbish, and thinking of dihydrocodeine, rather than dihydrocodeinone. The latter is one of the active ingredients in vicodin and isn't available over the counter. I still don't think you'd have any trouble bringing them into an EU state, though.
posted by xchmp at 2:37 PM on June 22, 2008

You've obviously already flown, but for posterity:

What is on the bottle that does contain the Vicodin? If it's just a blank bottle, a bottle with your name on it is a better idea just in case it is misplaced, so it can be identified later on.

Even though Vicodin is abused quite often I'm guessing it's not one of the drugs they go out of their way to detect chemically, and most custom agents can't identify drugs by sight anyway. Furthermore, it's only a dozen pills. That's a lot less likely to make them suspicious.

If you can, peel the label (if one exists) off of the original bottle and put it inside the new one. If someone asks about the pills, tell the truth: You wanted your name on the bottle so it would be identifiable as yours. The old bottle didn't have your name on it, so you moved the pills. Show them the label if they ask for it. If you got an information sheet for the drug keeping that with your medicine would also be a good idea.

I suspect that nothing bad has happened to you, especially since Europeans are used to us crazy over-medicated Americans.

Incidentally I have ADHD, and at one point had two different kinds of medication, both probably amphetamine-based, and put them in one bottle to make it easier to carry. I traveled in the UK, EU, and Egypt with these medications and never encountered a problem. I'm really interested in hearing about cases where this might be a problem, though, so if you're willing, Justinian, I'd be interested in hearing as much details as you can about the incidents you hinted at (especially if this is a trend for certain countries).

Also: not having your name on your pill bottles is a bad idea. No matter what bottle you choose to transport your meds, if it doesn't have your name on it slap on an address label. That way if you misplace it at a hotel or in a restaurant it will be easy[ier] to get it back.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:43 PM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

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