Planning to travel? Health experts warn your prescription could be illegal in these 10 countries

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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People looking to get away this holiday should be careful of what they pack in their carry-ons before hopping on a plane. 

Along with shoes, books and toothpaste, you’ll also likely stow away any medications you take – and while you may not think twice about packing doctor-prescribed drugs, those everyday pills could be illegal at your destination. 

Rules governing prescribed drugs vary by country, and some prescription drugs readily available in some countries may be illegal in others, from cannabis, which is legal in some US states, to painkillers like Vicodin.

Researchers found the United States had the strictest prescription drug laws when it comes to traveling with medications. The US bans 562 drugs for travelers visiting the country. 

Germany had the second strictest prescription drug laws, listing 464 drugs illegal in the country. 

With 328 substances banned, Japan had the third strictest medication regulations and Colombia came in fourth, with 324 drugs banned.

The medications most likely to get travelers in trouble included amphetamines — such as Adderall — and pain medications that contain hydrocodone.

The above list shows the countries with the most controlled drugs on their banned list. The list was compiled by researchers at Universal Drugstore

Gigi Hadid at a Miu Miu event in California in August, following her marijuana arrest in the Cayman Islands a month earlier

Many countries have tighter restrictions on some drugs because of concerns over addiction and their health effects.

Pharmacists at Universal Drugstore, which carried out the research, urged Americans to check regulations at their destination country before traveling.

Some countries — like Japan — will allow travelers to enter with a prescription medication from their home country if they have a note from their doctor and are only carrying up to a 30-day supply.

But in other countries, passengers can face arrest at borders, fines in excess of $30,000 and up to 25 years in jail.

For their study, the researchers counted the number of controlled drugs banned in 18 countries.

They compiled the data from official lists of banned substances published by countries drug regulation authorities or departments of health.

Results showed the United States had the tightest rules.

This is likely because of the country’s war on drugs — although limited enforcement in some areas leads to many drugs being available. 

In fifth place was the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with 293 controlled drugs banned, while in sixth was Qatar, with 231 banned, and in seventh was Thailand, with 225 banned.

Several celebrities have recently fallen foul of regulations in countries because they carried cannabis outside the US.

Supermodel Gigi Hadid was arrested at an airport in the Cayman Islands this year after she was found carrying marijuana — which she claimed to have bought in New York City using a medical license.

The above shows the drugs that are most likely to be banned in the eighteen countries in the list by the proportion that banned the drug (the percentage figure)

The above shows the drugs that are most likely to be banned in the eighteen countries in the list by the proportion that banned the drug (the percentage figure)

The United States, Germany and Japan had the most banned controlled drugs

The United States, Germany and Japan had the most banned controlled drugs

Amphetamines like Adderall are used in the US to treat conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), with the drugs working to boost concentration.

But in many other countries — including Japan, the UAE and South Korea — these are banned because of the risks of addiction and abuse.

Hydrocodone with acetaminophen — also called Vicodin, Lortab or Lorcet among others — is an opioid medication prescribed in the US for relieving moderate to severe pain.

It is one of America’s most popular, with more than 83million doses sold every year, but in many countries hydrocodone is banned because of concerns over addiction.

Marijuana is illegal in more than 160 countries worldwide — including the UK, Germany and Japan — and still illegal at the federal level in the US.

America is going through a period of loosening rules — with 24 of 50 states legalizing recreational marijuana — saying the drug can help people to manage chronic pain, nausea and to help with other disorders.

But the weed available today is much stronger than that available 50 years ago, with concerns now being raised over the impact this is having on people’s health.

A growing body of research shows regular use of marijuana can stunt brain development in young adults, while the drug has also been linked to hallucinations and psychosis.

Most countries have not legalized weed over the potential risks it poses to people’s health and because authorities there are not convinced the drug is safe.

When people enter the US carrying illegal drugs, they are stopped at customs. Penalties include fines and possible jail-time.

Jamie Winn PharmD, medical director for Universal Drugstore, said: ‘Traveling with prescription drugs demands a good level of research on the legal drug laws in your host country, and you must understand the medication regulations of your destination.

‘If your prescription includes controlled substances, be extra cautious. 

‘Always carry a copy of your prescription, clearly stating your medical condition and the necessity of the prescription drugs. 

‘Familiarize yourself with the generic names of your medication too, as brand names can vary globally.

‘Ensure that you stay informed as regulations change; therefore, you must check for updates on reliable government sources.’



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