Whether you are a U.S. citizen or a visitor from another country, questions often arise about the laws and regulations regarding entering the U.S. with prescribed medications. Moreover, the high cost of pharmaceuticals in the U.S. often drives travelers to look for cheaper alternatives to bring home from overseas.
My good friend had been suffering from recurrent bladder infections that weren’t responding to antibiotics. Her nephrologist at Johns Hopkins recommended she use a medication called Fosfomycin, sold over the counter in England and France. In the U.S., a one-dose sachet only available by prescription sells for about $80. In France, the price is about $5. When my friend heard we would be traveling to Bordeaux, she asked me to pick up a few sachets for her. I wondered whether or not it was legal.
In tourist areas of Mexico, signs advertising lower price prescription drugs are ubiquitous. Is it safe and legal to bring these back to the states?
FDA Information on prescribed medications
On February 2, 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration updated an informational fact sheet answering the most common questions about prescribed medications raised by travelers. Some of the take-home points:
- The FDA cannot assure the safety, efficacy or production standards of medications sold outside the country.
- Even generic or over-the-counter versions of drugs (like the Fosfomycin) aren’t allowed to be brought back to the U.S. because of these same concerns.
- To bring prescribed medication into the country, travelers are advised to have a valid prescription or Doctor’s note written in English for no more than a 90-day supply in hand.
- A more complicated personal importation exemption policy applies for medications necessary to treat medical conditions for which no domestic treatments are available domestically.
- The FDA has no jurisdiction over the transporting of medications into the country. This falls under the purview of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
It was also interesting to learn that all imports from the Mexican drugstore chain “Farmacua Vida Suprema” are specifically prohibited due to suspected ties to drug cartels.
A murky bottom line
Travelers need to weigh the pros and cons of bringing prescribed medications into the U.S., including the safety of their purchases and the odds of inspection and possible confiscation at Customs when entering the country.
Have more questions?
Click here for additional information about bringing prescription drugs in to the U.S. from the CDP.
If you still are uncertain, it’s best to contact the TSA.