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Travel Rx

If you take medicine, plan ahead before leaving home

SATURDAY, Dec. 18, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- You've purchased your travel tickets, you've called ahead for restaurant reservations, you've even packed an extra bottle of sunscreen. But what if your medication gets lost en route to your sunny destination? Would you know what to do in an emergency?

If you take prescription medication or regularly rely on over-the-counter remedies, a little advance planning can save a lot of hassle on the road. That's especially true if you are traveling overseas. But even a cross-country jaunt can put people in a bind if they get delayed and don't have enough medicine to tide them over.

"I travel a lot and I carry an extra day or two, depending on how long a trip I'm taking," said Susan C. Winckler, vice president for policy and communications and staff counsel at the American Pharmacists Association.

Most health plans will authorize an extra supply of medication if you explain why you need a refill ahead of schedule, she said. If you give your pharmacist enough notice, he or she can call the health plan and make the appropriate arrangements.

"Enough notice is not on your way to the airport," Winckler added. Start planning your medication needs at least four days ahead of your trip, she advised.

For snowbirds fleeing America's colder climates for warmer venues each winter, the solution may be as easy as calling their pharmacist in advance. A New Yorker, say, who uses a national pharmacy chain may be able to have the prescription switched to an outlet in Florida.

"Frequently, you can get them filled wherever you are," explained Carla B. Frye, director of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists' Section of Clinical Specialists and Scientists.

No matter how extensive the journey, Frye and Winckler agree that patients should carry their drugs with them. Never pack them away in checked luggage that can get lost, diverted or damaged. You'll forfeit immediate access to your drugs.

And you could expose them to uncontrolled temperatures. Insulin, for example, doesn't need to be refrigerated, but it may lose its strength if stored in very hot or very cold temperatures, the American Diabetes Association cautions. Other medications, including some antibiotics, should be kept cool.

Insulin-dependent diabetics and other users of injectable medicines should make sure all needles, syringes and medications are properly labeled. "And you probably don't need 100 needles," Winckler noted. Just take the supply you need for the trip.

Pharmacists generally advise carrying all prescription medicines in their original, labeled containers. It's a little more cumbersome and bulky, Winckler conceded, "but then you'll have all the information you need if something happens." If you ask ahead, your pharmacist can provide smaller bottles with the appropriate labels so you don't have to stow large containers in your carry-on luggage, she said.

To be on the safe side, Frye advises international travelers to bring along copies of their prescriptions, too. Those written instructions may not be legal in other countries, but at least they provide a starting point for having new prescriptions ordered and filled.

Also, carry with you any over-the-counter medications you regularly use, since what you find in foreign pharmacies may not be of the same quality or use the same ingredients. In some countries, cough medicines may contain a drug used to treat tuberculosis, Frye cautioned.

And don't forget travel-related products you might need to weather the trip, including anti-diarrhea medicine, eye drops, and motion sickness medication. These products work well for those who are prepared, and that means thinking ahead.

"If you don't have them," Winckler said, "they can't do you any good."

More information

For tips on using medications safely while traveling, check with the American Pharmacists Association.

SOURCES: Susan C. Winckler, vice president, policy and communications, and staff counsel, American Pharmacists Association, Washington, D.C.; Carla B. Frye, Pharm.D., director, Section of Clinical Specialists and Scientists, American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Bethesda, Md.
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