Take your drugs with you legally

When it comes to illegal drug trafficking, the term usually refers to well known drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana. The truth is that the term ‘drugs’ can also encompass pharmaceutical drugs, together with herbal medicines and locally made preparations. With global travel becoming easier and an increasingly transient workforce, assumptions regarding what may or may not be illegal have tended to slip off the radar for many. Rules regarding the legality of drugs differ from country to country, so travellers should be aware of the local statutory position. Rather than just checking the weather forecast before you travel, make sure your prescription medicine isn’t actually banned – it could cause you more than a headache otherwise.

The difficulty in trying to monitor drug sales or allowing for the different regimes between countries has been exacerbated by the ease of buying drugs over the internet. Trying to monitor drug purchasing has become extremely difficult, and the rules of what is and isn’t allowed aren’t always clear on a country by country basis. Visitors to the U.A.E, for example, may be surprised to learn that codeine products are banned across the Emirates. So a commonly used over the counter medication available in the UK and many other European countries would be confiscated on arrival and, if suspected of taking the drug, an individual may be subject to a urine test to ensure no trace of it is in his body. Drugs are also classified in different ways across different parts of the world, such that not all might be considered pharmaceutical drugs.

Take melatonin for example, a hormone supplement which occurs naturally in the brain to regulate sleep patterns. This supplement is often taken by people with insomnia, or those trying to get over jet lag, but is actually banned in most countries outside of the U.S., except in some instances as a prescription medicine. Most notably, melatonin is not allowed to be sold over the counter within the European Union and in Canada. Bans can also include herbal medicines, which have traditionally been kept out of the frame when it comes to monitoring prescriptions. Over the past few years in the West in particular, herbal medicines have become more and more popular, as people try to find natural substitutes for pharmaceutical drugs. However, as plant based medicines can often have potentially dangerous side-effects too, regulators and the industry have had to introduce the same rigorous testing as pharmaceutical drugs undergo. As a result, more is now known about many of these alternative preparations and as of 1 May 2011, many herbal medicines, including Ayurvedic medicine, are now banned across the European Union. Ayurvedic medicines have been an integral part of Indian medicine for centuries and so bans can often have a cultural implication too.

China is another country with a long tradition of an alternative medicine culture which has been in existence for centuries. Travellers and visitors can often make the mistake of assuming that Western medicines will be available when visiting China. In fact many Western pharmaceutical medicines are simply not sold, so if you’re planning on visiting China and you are currently taking a long term prescription, make sure you have enough to last for your whole trip and ensure the medicines are in their original containers and approved locally. Leading international healthcare insurance provider, April International UK, has a long history of providing support and access to treatment for expatriates and foreign nationals across the world. Debbie Purser, CEO, said: “Our priority is to give our policyholders the very best local care, should they fall ill. In some cases, this means giving them local variations of familiar medicines and drugs. However, if a client has a requirement to take a specific brand of medicine, they may have to ensure that they carry their own stocks, in which case we advise obtaining clearance from any country they are likely to visit before they leave the UK or existing base.”