Not easy to manage drugs abroad - The360 Travel

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  • Wednesday, December 25, 2019

    Not easy to manage drugs abroad

    Not easy to manage drugs abroad

    Isabelle Poirier had nevertheless prepared everything with care. Leaving for a 14 month trip to Eurasia with her son, she wanted to travel as lightly as possible. For this reason, instead of leaving with an astronomical amount of medicine for the whole trip, she had planned to send a package en route to Turkey.

    But then, the package was held at customs for several weeks, which resulted in additional costs, serious loss of time and additional stress for a mother concerned about the health of her son.

    Managing medication while traveling can be complicated for long trips, but even for short vacations, special attention should be paid.

    "When you go on a trip, you think of the suitcase, the cap, the plane ticket, but you also have to think of the pharmacy," said Dr. Geneviève Ostiguy, doctor at the Travel Health Clinic of the Fondation du CHUM.

    There are a few basic rules to follow. For example, always keep medication in hand luggage.

    "This avoids the risk of losing checked baggage, but also the risk of deterioration," said Dr. Ostiguy.

    She also recalls that certain medications must be stored within a specific range of temperatures. By leaving the drugs in checked baggage, "we no longer control their environment".

    Medicines should also be kept in the original container, with a label identified with the person's name. This makes it easier to go through customs.

    In particular, it would be important to have a doctor’s note if the traveler is required to bring supplies that may cause the customs officer to bite, such as syringes. "This letter should state that these syringes are for personal use," said Dr. Ostiguy. We are thinking of diabetic patients or patients who have to take medication subcutaneously."

    By making their small travel pharmacy, travelers can include medications that are available over the counter, such as diarrhea relievers, rehydration packets, topical antibiotics, and anti-nausea medications. Dr. Ostiguy still recommends obtaining prescriptions when possible, especially for antidiarrheals.


    Obviously, a traveler can always have their hand luggage stolen and find themselves without medication. Medicines may be available in the country visited, but it will often be necessary to visit a doctor to obtain a new prescription.

    In some countries, a drug that can be obtained over the counter in Quebec should be subject to a prescription. Or the opposite: the drug prescribed in Quebec can easily be found over the counter.

    When a person leaves for a very long time, it takes even more planning.

    "I recommend leaving with the right dose of medication, whether it's antimalarials, antibiotics, antidiarrheals, or whatever," says Dr. Ostiguy. Access to medicines can vary from country to country. In addition, in many developing countries, there are issues of counterfeit medicines. We can end up with an inactive or downright harmful product."

    She adds that when you buy a medicine in your country of origin, you understand its use more thanks to the advice that comes with the prescription.


    She does not recommend sending medication by mail or courier. There is a risk of loss and deterioration.

    However, this is the path that Isabelle Poirier had chosen: she simply did not see where she could fit 14 months of medication (intended for her son) in her little 40-liter backpack.

    She had started the process six months before her departure to familiarize herself with the border laws of the countries she intended to visit and choose a recognized courier company. But then, bad information about the procedures, which she attributes to the courier company, ensured that the package was blocked at customs for weeks.

    Isabelle Poirier had to be persistent to finally recover the precious drugs.

    She is still planning to have another package of medicine sent to Nepal in January, but may well change courier companies.

    "To be continued," she said.

    Dr. Ostiguy says there are other possible solutions for "long-distance travelers".

    “Often, travelers who leave for a long period return to see their families for the holidays, or for a special occasion. This is an opportunity to stock up and stock up on drugs."

    The doctor warns of very specific medications, such as methadone, which facilitate withdrawal.

    "It is prohibited in some countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria and Russia. It is worthwhile to inquire about the laws of the country visited even if at home, these drugs are allowed."

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