Can You Travel With Prescribed Controlled Substance Drugs? 

Traveling, whether for business or leisure, can be hectic. Preparing for a trip means being organized and making sure everything you need is not forgotten. Traveling with prescribed controlled substance drugs can add a new level of stress, but with some planning ahead, it doesn’t have to. Keep reading to learn the facts about traveling with prescribed controlled substances. 

Are All Prescribed Medications considered Controlled Substances? 

Knowing the category of your prescribed medication is the first step in preparing to travel with it. Prescription medication can be broken down into two categories: controlled and non-controlled. 

Most prescriptions for infections or for chronic conditions are non-controlled. For example, most blood pressure and cholesterol medications are non-controlled medications. Same with diabetes medications (including insulin), asthma inhalers, and antibiotics.

Controlled substances are medications that can cause physical and mental dependence. There are restrictions on how they can be filled and refilled. Controlled substances are regulated and classified by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). Some examples of controlled substance drugs include: ADHD medications, anxiety medications, marijuana products, nerve pain medications, opioid medications, and sleep medications. 

Another issue to consider when traveling with medications is that other countries, and sometimes other states within the U.S., have separate considerations for some medications. For example, the decongestant Sudafed is considered a schedule V controlled substance in several states including Illinois, Kansas, and Iowa, but considered a schedule III controlled substance in Oregon or Mississippi. These differing categories mean different consequences if you are not following the correct set of “rules” for traveling with the prescribed controlled substances. 

Schedules of Prescription Controlled Medications

The Controlled Substance Act established five drug schedules and classified them to control their manufacture and distribution. Each of the five schedules has parameters based on their medical value, the risk of addiction, and the ability to cause harm. The schedules range from Schedule I (most potential for addiction/use disorder) to Schedule V (least potential for addiction/use disorder).

Knowing exactly what schedule, or category, your prescription medication fits into before you travel is imperative to avoiding any penalties. 

Traveling Domestically with Prescribed Controlled Substance Medication 

Traveling domestically with prescribed medication is less regulated than traveling internationally, however there are some things you consider to ensure a smooth trip. Most of the time, you are not required to notify a TSA agent about medication you are traveling with unless it is in liquid form. However, different states have different guidelines, so check before you go. Follow these guidelines when traveling domestically with prescribed controlled substances: 

  1. Pack your medications in a separate container in your carry-on luggage. If you’re traveling domestically for an extended period of time, pack enough of your medication in your carry-on to last a couple of days, and the rest in your checked luggage. Because of delays or lost luggage, you want to make sure you have enough of your medication with you in your carry-on bag. 
  1. Label the medications. Medications in pill or other solid form must undergo security screening. It is recommended that medication be clearly labeled to facilitate the screening process. Check with state laws regarding prescription medication labels.
  1. Inform the TSA Officer. Inform the TSA officer that you have medically necessary liquids and/or medications and separate them from other belongings before screening begins. 

Traveling Internationally with Prescribed Controlled Substance Medication 

As mentioned before, traveling internationally means following specific procedures, especially when it comes to traveling with prescribed controlled substances. Each country has different rules and regulations that you need to follow to avoid consequences. When traveling internationally with prescribed controlled substances, follow these directions: 

  1. Research which prescribed controlled substances are allowed in the country you are traveling to. This will take time, but is necessary. The International Narcotics Control Board’s website is a good place to start, but countries must self-report their regulations, so some may be incomplete or outdated. 
  • Contact the Embassy of the country you are visiting for information on traveling with controlled substances. This is a secure way of knowing what you can travel with. 
  1. Know how much of your prescribed controlled substance you can bring. Some countries may allow for a 30-day supply, while others only allow for a few days. In some cases, certain controlled substances can be outright banned from being brought into the country. 
  1. Travel with proper documentation for controlled substances. Most countries require your healthcare provider’s prescription, ideally translated into the local language. Some countries (Japan) require you to apply in advance to bring your medications. 
  1. Follow tips 1-3 in the Traveling Domestically with Prescribed Controlled Substances category above. 

The Bottom Line

Traveling with medications requires some planning ahead, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. While rules vary depending on your destination, there are many resources for the information you need to prepare. 

Before traveling with medications, visit the websites of your airline and the TSA. If you’re traveling abroad, contact your destination’s U.S. embassy to confirm that you follow all the rules. Check several sources to confirm the information you find.

Traveling with prescribed controlled substance medications can be tricky. If you run into trouble, the Law Offices of Robert J. DeGroot can help.