Can I buy narcotic painkillers abroad?
 

QUESTION:

"I am taking narcotic painkillers for a chronic condition. Will I have problems carrying these medications with me when I travel? And if I run out, or lose my pills while on vacation, how difficult would it be to get prescription painkillers?"

 

ANSWERS:

(Provided by a travel-industry professional, health-care providers, and our team of experienced travelers)

 

"Always carry prescription drugs in their original containers that show your name, the prescribing physician and the dispensing pharmacy. Make sure the amount you carry with you is reasonable for the duration of your stay, i.e., daily amounts plus a small contingency. For stronger and/or injection medications such as morphine injections you may need a doctor's letter confirming your use of this medication."

"Special note about bringing syringes/needles: take proof with you that you need them, such a letter from a doctor or a prescription if you are diabetic. Other travelers can usually carry a reasonable amount of disposable syringes (1 or 2) for personal use for travel to developing countries." "Note that some narcotic painkillers sold without a prescription (referred to as "Over the Counter" or OTC meds) in some countries may be illegal in your own country, or vice-versa. Examples: Codeine 8mg (Tylenol 1) sold OTC in Canada may NOT be imported in some states in the US without a prescription; OTC meds containing Oxycodone - even in small amounts - are prohibited in the US, Canada, and many European countries unless you can produce a prescription." "To get a doctor's prescription for narcotic painkillers may be difficult if you are not a citizen or resident of the country (except in clinical settings). Example: Prescribed painkillers in Germany are non-narcotic Ibuprophen (up to 800mg), Tramadol, and Tilidin, although Tilidin has come under scrutiny lately because it may produce aggression in some patients."

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Our former on-site representative advises:

"I would strongly advise against sourcing prescription drugs illegally, especially in developing countries, like from shady pharmacies or on the street. These medications are in many cases fake and totally worthless at best and deadly at the worst."

"We once had a guy in a coma who had to be airlifted back to Canada. He had bought what he thought was Vicodin at a backstreet pharmacy. Since the purchase was illegal, his medical insurance refused to pay his out-of-country medical bills."

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Canada:

- All opioid pain medications require prescriptions.
- Codeine is sold over the counter in tablets of 8mg and 500mg Acetaminophen (called Tylenol #1). This medication must be requested at the counter.
- Tramadol requires a prescription.
- Naproxen: only 220mg (Aleve) is available over the counter.

Please note that you may not be able to import Tylenol #1 (8mg codeine) in some US states without a prescription.

Cuba:

Outside of Havana, it is difficult to obtain ANY pain medications, let alone narcotic painkillers. Prescription painkillers are mostly Tramadol (up to 100mg) or non-narcotic injections.
Sometimes, a Cuban prescription medication containing 25mg Codeine and 325g Acetaminophen is available at international clinics. A Cuban doctor at an international clinic in Holguin says: "In Cuba, narcotic pain medications are used only in clinic or hospital settings. They are strictly controlled in Cuba and are not sold in pharmacies. The strongest painkiller a doctor can hand out to patients is Tramadol (if it is available). However, Tramadol is also controlled in Cuba, and the prescribing physician has to issue a special prescription for it."

 

Dominican Republic:

- Tramadol (50mg) is available without a prescription. Narcotic painkillers require a prescription, but a combination drug composed of 50mg Codeine and 50mg Diclofenac (a strong Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug - NSAID) is available over the counter. Naproxen (another NSAID) is sold over the counter but not always available.
- If you need a strong painkiller, you shouldn't have any problem finding a physician who can prescribe you some in reasonable amounts. It helps to have your original prescription from home.
- Drugs are generally expensive.

 

Mexico (Updated March 2010):

- Medication is very expensive in Mexico.
- Prescribing physician: easily available, but can be very expensive (up to 120USD for one consultation). Physicians may be limited to the amount of narcotics they can prescribe for one person.
- Not all pharmacies carry all medications and you may have to try several ones.

- Codeine up to 60mg can be prescribed without problems and is available at pharmacies. Tylex capsules with 30mg Codeine and 500mg Acetaminophen are also available without a prescription for up to 2 to 3 times the regular price (up to 90 USD for 30 capsules depending on pharmacy).
- Tramadol 50mg and 100mg, including extended release versions, are available over the counter. Price: 1 100mg capsule or tablet ~ 1 USD (you may find it cheaper).
- Naproxen up to 500mg is sold over the counter.
- Oxycodone and hydrocodone are available by prescription only.
- Another mild opioid painkiller named Dextropropoxyphene (Dextropropoxifeno) is sold over the counter at USD20.00 per tablet.

Venezuela (Margarita Island) and San Andres Island:

- Some pharmacies sell "Widena", a Columbian medication that is similar to Tylenol 3 (30mg codeine and 500mg acetaminophen) over the counter, or a doctor can prescribe it for you.
- Tramadol (50mg and 100mg) is usually available over the counter.

 

Southeast Asia:

- Codeine preparations of up to 60mg are widely available, lower doses even without a prescription.
- Some pharmacies may sell stronger narcotic painkillers without a prescription, but this can be expensive and the quality may be inconsistent.

 

FINAL WORDS 

"Always take any medication you need with you - never count on meds being available at your destination. Also keep in mind that, although narcotic painkillers are "legal drugs", it may still be illegal in some countries to carry them without a valid prescription, You are well advised to travel with proof of prescription (such as the original container showing your name and the name of the drug)."