Standard disclaimer…I am not a doctor, nurse, or medical professional of any kind. The blog post is not a substitute for the advice of your doctor–please talk to your doctor before you travel with any medication. That goes double if you’re traveling outside of your home country.
For me, traveling with pain means traveling with medication. And traveling with medication can add to the already significant pain in my butt. Traveling with meds isn’t as simple as throwing a pill case into my suitcase and walking out the door. If you’re like me–on a whole bunch of different drugs, some of which have to be taken at specific times, others that come with legal restrictions, still others that need special physical handling (refrigeration)…add plane flights and time zone changes to that and disaster’s easy to come by.
So here are just a few quickie tips for traveling with medication.
1. Know your own prescriptions.
It’s always important to know what’s in the medication you’re taking. But it’s vital when you’re away from home. You’ve got to know what class your meds are in, what their side effects and interactions do, their names (both chemical and brand), and your dosage in milligrams (“I take a couple of these blue ones every day” isn’t good enough). Especially know which of your prescriptions you must take consistently and not stop without physician supervision, controlled tapering, or withdrawal symptoms.
2. Bring your bottles or your bottle labels.
If you use a day-by-day pill dispenser and bringing all your pill bottles takes up too much space in your bags, pull the labels off each pill bottle and affix them to a sheet of paper. That gives you all the info about your prescriptions that an out-of-town pharmacist or doctor might need to give you an emergency refill.
3. Bring at least twice the amount of medication you’ll need for the length of time you plan to be away from home.
Always always ALWAYS bring extra meds with you when you travel. Even if you’re going only a few miles from home for an overnight stay, bring extra. You never know when a highway will be closed, a volcano will erupt, a car will break down, an airport will close. If you’ve got the extra meds, you’re set to stay away longer than you planned without stress, fuss, or worry. Even if a natural disaster traps you far from home for a long while, that extra supply you’ve got gives you time to contact your doctors and get refills if you need them.
4. Plan for time zone changes well in advance.
Some meds require that you keep a consistent level of the drug in your system at all times, which means you’ve got to take the drugs at specific times of day. SSRIs & SNRIs (antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, and Cymbalta), and neuropathic drugs such as Lyrica and Neurontin must be taken consistently or withdrawal effects can be severe. The same goes for certain diabetic medications, asthma meds, and many other drugs. You’ve got to know which of yours fall into this category–schedule an appointment with your doctor specifically to talk about your prescriptions and how to manage them with time changes if you don’t already know.
Before you leave for your trip, with your doctor’s permission and supervision, start changing the times you take your meds to match the time zone you’ll be traveling to. That way, you won’t add the stress of trying to figure out your med schedule to the stress of traveling.
I messed this up once, and it was Not Good(tm). The time change was only three hours (California to Toronto), but because I was stressed out I missed three doses of Cymbalta in a row. That led to me reeling around the streets of Toronto, dizzy and spaced out, for several hours. Happily I neither fell into a seizure nor fell in front of a bus before I realized what went wrong and fixed it.
5. Get documentation for all your opioids.
Usually the prescription label with your name (as matches your passport and driver’s license), your doctor’s name, and the prescription info will be sufficient to convince airport security and customs officers that you’ve got the right to carry your opioid pain medication.
I recommend carrying your opioids in their original prescription bottle, so they can be found, counted, and tested.
And if I’m headed abroad, to a locale where drug trafficking is a Major Big Deal (Mexico and the Middle East leap to mind), I take it one step further and obtain a letter from my prescribing physician describing my medical condition and the pain medications prescribed to control the pain.
Yup, letting customs officers get deep into my problems with my pelvic region is unpleasant. It’s intrusive and awful. But detention centers and prison are worse.
Speaking of international travel–are you traveling to the United States from Canada, Great Britain, France, or another civilized country that permits the sale of codeine-based drugs over the counter? Be aware that you may not find your usual OTC meds when you travel to the States, and that in some countries carrying large quantities of such medications without a prescription constitutes a crime.
That’s all for now…I’ll probably revisit this topic in later posts, maybe even in an eBook one day over at The Imperfect Traveler. In the meantime–got your own great tricks for traveling with meds? Please share them here! I know I can always use new tips in this area.