Thank you for the helpful article on healthy traveling (Oct. 26). The information on traveling with medications does apply. You should, however, take extra precautions with pain medications. If lost, many pain meds cannot be called in; if left in their original bottles, they can be targets for theft.
Opiate pain medications (oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, fentanyl and others) are highly sought after as drugs to abuse. Sadly, the safest approach is to assume that everyone you come in contact with would, given the opportunity, steal some or all of them. Do not believe that because you are visiting your best friend, cousin or kids, that your pain meds are safe. I have had patients whose medications have been stolen by their friends, siblings and children, you name it.
Keep only a few pills in the original containers. The rest should be put in a nondescript and non-valuable looking container, such as an old Tylenol bottle or a repurposed travel-size shampoo bottle. Most people think it is best to leave all medications, including the opiates, in the original prescription bottle. However, pain medications in the original containers are just too easy to identify and steal. Your chances of getting into trouble for not having proof of prescription, or not having them in the original bottles is insignificant compared to your chances of getting your medications stolen.
For international travel, some countries require a letter from your prescribing health care professional with the diagnosis and medications listed (best to use generic names). Others allow you to have only a 30-day supply. The CDC says in some countries your pain medication could be illegal. They advise checking with your destination country to verify that you are not unwittingly carrying contraband.
Sometimes it is hard to tell if it is safer to leave medications in a hotel room, ships cabin, or take them along on an excursion. If there is a safe, use that and take only the pills you will need for the day (in that nondescript, waterproof container). If there is no safe, it is a judgment call.
Travel is frequently associated with increased alcohol consumption. Combining alcohol and opiates can be deadly. Alcohol will increase the risk of some of the most dangerous side effects of medications (such as drowsiness and reduced breathing). Most patients are advised not to use alcohol at all in combination with pain medications. If you use pain medications, vacations are not the time to start drinking.
Finally, avoid talking to people about your pain medications. It is none of their business, and the fewer people who are aware of your opiates the better.
Traveling with pain medications is a little different, but a few extra precautions and planning can make it almost painless.
Richard Radnovich, D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy), is the medical director of Injury Care Medical Center.