60% of people did not adhere to their medication regime during travel*, with potential negative effect on health and wellbeing as a result. Travelling with medicines for a pre-existing medical condition shouldn’t impact on your enjoyment of a holiday, although it might mean taking a few extra steps to ensure that your required medicines are kept well protected whilst you travel and legal in the country you’re visiting.
Some people may be surprised to learn that common medicines you might buy over the counter in the United Kingdom are often classed as controlled substances in other countries. For example, the substance pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in supermarket cough and cold remedies, is a banned substance in Japan. Many countries such as the United Arab Emirates, China and Greece class any medicine containing the ingredient codeine as a controlled substance. This includes weaker medication such as co-codamol, which may be published from a UK pharmacy without a prescription. More information regarding the legal status of medicines abroad can be found at https://www.gov.uk/travelling-controlled-drugs.
A good first step is to check the .gov website to check the legal status of your medicines in the countries you’re visiting, and any relevant laws governing their use (for example, on the quantity of medicine allowed to be brought into the country, or the documents you need to carry them legally). If you find that you require more medicine than the country of travel will allow you to bring in, try contacting the Home Office who may be able to help by issuing you with a licence for personal use.
Some helpful tips for before you travel to help you adhere to your medicines…
- When travelling with a prescription medicine, make sure you keep a copy of the prescription on your person at all times. This should be signed by a healthcare professional and include the prescriber’s phone number.
- Try to carry all your medicines in their original packaging.
- When purchasing travel insurance, check that any policy would cover the loss of your prescription medicines.
- If your medicine can be bought over-the-counter, it might be easier to find the brand name for the foreign alternative, and stock up once you arrive.
- If you are taking a prescription medicine through security, give yourself plenty of time and be ready to hand over a copy of the prescription. Remember – the 100ml rule at airport security also applies to medicines, so just taken what you need for the journey, and put the rest in your suitcase.
- Many medicines need to be kept cool and dry, so it might help to contact the airline who can give their advice on the best way to achieve this.
There are a few steps you can take to reduce the chance of medicines being lost or stolen when abroad. If you’re heading out and about, only take the medicine you need for the day and leave the rest stored securely in your accommodation. If the worst does happen, make sure to report this to the local law enforcement as most insurance companies will ask to see a police report before reimbursing you. The insurance company will be able to advise you of the best way to get more of your medicine, either from a hospital or a local pharmacy.
Some medicines may increase your sensitivity to UV rays, so using a higher factor sunscreen is advisable. Try to keep your medicines out of direct sunlight as high temperatures can damage some medicines and reduce how well they work. In addition, certain health conditions can exacerbate heat-related conditions (e.g. heatstroke), so it is a good idea to frequently apply high factor sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and keep a close eye on more vulnerable family members (e.g. the elderly and very young children).
It can be easy to get caught up in the holiday lifestyle, and when this happens it can be easy to forget to take your medicines on occasion. Using a medication reminder app such as Medsmart® can help you make smarter decisions about your medicines and give you peace of mind when away on holiday, helping you adhere to your routine.
If you have any questions regarding your medicines whilst abroad, take a look at the patient information leaflet found in the box with all medicines, or talk to your healthcare professional.
*University of Washington