Recommendations for Traveling with Controlled Substances over the Holidays


During the holidays many of us will be travelling to see friends and family. For injured employees who need to travel with controlled substances there are a few recommendations they should keep in mind before hitting the road this holiday season.

When traveling with a controlled substance prescription medication, it is best to only bring as much medication as will be required for the time away from home. For example, if a patient has a prescription for Vicodin® (hydrocodone/APAP, a Schedule II controlled substance) that is intended to be taken as one tablet twice a day with a bottle of 60 tablets (a 30-day supply), it would be wise to bring only 14 of the 60 tablets on a seven-day trip (with a few extra tablets as a precaution). This way, if the medication is lost or stolen, the patient will not be left without any medication for the remainder of the month and may potentially have less of an issue getting a replacement or early refill. Controlled substances, unlike non-controlled medications, have tighter restrictions for the prescriber and often will not be dispensed by the pharmacy again prior to the time they should run out according to the prescription. 

When traveling, it is best to keep the medication in the original prescription bottle or to put the reduced amount into a separate bottle with the same labeling. A second empty bottle with a duplicate prescription label can usually be requested at the pharmacy for this purpose. Alternatively, a copy of the prescription or a note from the prescriber may also be required in certain situations. 

If traveling by plane, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not currently require medications be in a prescription bottle; however, states have individual laws regarding the labeling of medications that the patient should be aware of before traveling. The TSA screens medications and asks that meds be separated from other belongings for this purpose. To facilitate the screening process, it is good practice to ensure that both the patient and the medication are clearly identifiable on the container to avoid confusion. 

If traveling out of the country, the patient should consider that medications may have different approvals and indications with which he or she may need to comply. This is true in the United States as well. For example, medical marijuana laws vary greatly state to state, and medical marijuana is not currently recognized federally as a legal substance. Patients should familiarize themselves with the laws applicable to the area to which he or she is traveling. The TSA and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have additional information regarding medications and travel that may be found online by visiting their websites. 

If possible, medication should always be kept with the patient, or alternatively, in a locked or secure location such as a hotel room safe. If a patient finds that his or her medication is misplaced or stolen, it is important to report it immediately to the prescriber. Depending on the situation, it may also be appropriate to notify law enforcement as theft of a controlled substance is a punishable offense. 

About the author 

Nikki Wilson, PharmD, MBA, provides clinical leadership and strategic direction as Senior Director of Clinical Pharmacy Services at Mitchell. As a licensed Pharmacist, Nikki has over 13 years of comprehensive industry experience through leadership roles across prescription home delivery programs, pharmacy operations and benefit management (PBM), and clinical program development. She is responsible for evolving and operationalizing strategic pharmacy initiatives as well as overseeing clinical service teams and program capabilities at Mitchell as an integral component of our full-service managed care organization, Enlyte. Dr. Wilson serves as a national thought leader and frequent contributor to industry presentations and publications.



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