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Travel only with the meds you need - (8/21/2018)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

Mike the Dog was the pharmacist’s beautiful Border Collie. He was intelligent, loyal, smart, acrobatic, and energetic. The pharmacist loved Mike very much and was his constant buddy. One weekend, the pharmacist had a houseguest who was a good friend. The friend, who had recurring pain in his joints, brought along a 90-day supply of high-dose ibuprofen. When the two went out for lunch, Mike the Dog found the pills in the guest’s shaving bag and ate the entire contents. After lingering in the hospital for 3 days, Mike the Dog died of liver and kidney failure. The pharmacist was devastated. His buddy was gone.    

Before any blame is heaped on either the friend or the pharmacist, know that animals do not always know what they are doing in a human’s world. They want to please but they can also get bored. As for the pharmacist, he was unaware that activated charcoal could have been used to get the drug out of the dog’s stomach before it was absorbed into the general circulation. Instead of rushing Mike to the hospital, the pharmacist waited until the next day to see if Mike had rallied. He did not. Also, the friend should not have brought a full supply of his medication for what would be a 2-day trip. Instead, the friend should have brought just enough of the drug for the duration of his visit. But even if he did not, the shaving bag should have been stored out of the animal’s reach. This also certainly goes for households that have young children who might also have discovered the medication and ingested it. 

Traveling with prescription medications involves adhering to some rules. For example, if the pharmacist’s friend decided to take only a 2-day supply of his prescribed medication, the drug must be stored in its original container, that is, one with the pharmacy label on it. Many people who travel extensively will ask the pharmacist for a smaller, second medication vial with a label on it. If the medication is not in its original container, the person must have a copy of the prescription with you or a signed letter from the prescriber.  

If you are going on a longer trip, especially one that involves air travel, you might keep a smaller supply in your purse or carry-on bag and the rest in your luggage – because luggage does get lost! At least that way, you will have your prescription labels on the smaller vials so that the larger vials can be replaced at your destination. In fact, you may want to consider putting these vials in a Zip-Lock® type bag so that inspectors can examine the vials without actually having to go through them by hand. And those drug-sniffing dogs at the airport? They are trained to look for narcotics hidden on the person or in the luggage. If you are on a narcotic for a legitimate reason, then, again, the original container and/or a doctor’s letter should suffice. Replacing narcotics or any controlled substance should it get lost may be trickier when you arrive at your destination. Ask your prescriber if you can have an extra prescription just in case.  

If you are traveling with medical devices such as needles or oxygen tanks that could pose a security or safety concern to others, be sure to have a copy of the prescription for those items from your doctor. You should also contact the Transportation Security Administration (tsa.gov or [866] 289-9673) about any additional requirements they may have.

Mike the Dog’s fate was a crucial lesson for the pharmacist. Now he counsels his pet-owning patients about securing medications, having charcoal capsules on hand and getting medical help ASAP. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com  


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