It’s fairly common for people with chronic illnesses to carry medicines, and it certainly is legal to do so. But most of us are not aware that there are local laws governing how we are supposed to carry them. Presumably, these laws exit to assure we are not carrying drugs that are illegal or could harm others. If we don’t carry our meds the “right way,” we could wind up in an uncomfortable situation with law enforcement.
To protect ourselves from a misunderstanding with police when carrying medicines, we must:
1. Carry proof of what the medicines are;
2. Prove the medicines have been prescribed to us by a medical professional;
3. Know and follow the different regulations governing the carrying of medicines for each of the states where we live, work, and travel; and
4. Take special care when leaving home with drugs that are on the controlled substance list. The rules for carrying these drugs are quite strict, and carrying these drugs outside of their original container and without the attached prescription, can be a felony crime in some states—even if the medications have been prescribed legally by a doctor.
Making matters worse for people with chronic illnesses, most of us lack the information we need to follow the laws. There is little if any information accessible to the public about the laws involving the carrying of medications. The laws vary from state to state and doctors and pharmacists rarely inform patients about the legal way to carry their medications.
The little-known laws governing the carrying of legal medications
I have asked medical professionals and law enforcement officers if they could explain the laws governing the carrying of legal drugs, and all have been foggy on the details. It appears the government has neglected to educate the public, medical professionals, or even law enforcement officers on our rights and obligations when carrying medications, despite how common it is for people to carry medicines to treat both chronic illnesses and temporary sickness (like a cold or flu).
And yet, the consequences of carrying medications without proof that they are legal can be quite uncomfortable. The police may suspect you of abusing or selling drugs illegally—since they may not be able to identify the difference between legal and illegal drugs. You could be arrested, fined, and even jailed–at least until you come up with proof that your medications are legal.
What are the laws governing the carrying of medications?
The answer depends on the state you are in. Some states require all medications to be carried in their original containers, with prescriptions labels attached. Other states require only controlled substances to be carried in their original prescription containers. Still other states allow medications to be in any container, as long as you can present a script from a medical provider if questioned.
Drugs are also regulated at the federal level through the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 (Controlled Substance Act of 1970). But the federal law deals almost exclusively with controlled substances, leaving flexibility for the states to decide how people should carry both controlled and uncontrolled drugs that are legally prescribed to them.
I tried to find out the laws concerning the carrying of medications in New York, where I live, and had a difficult time. I found pages of dense text about drug laws, requiring anyone searching for the legal way to carry their medications to muddle through lots of obscure legal language. Most of the regulations address illegal drugs and very little address how to carry legal medications.
I called my local police precinct, and the police officer I spoke with did not know the details of the New York State laws. Instead of providing the actual details of the laws, the officer provided me with anecdotal advice from her own personal experiences with a young daughter who needs to carry medications (her daughter carries medicines in their original containers). I followed up with my family’s doctor, who was also unclear about the state laws.
It seems the drug laws are weak in protecting people carrying medications to treat their illnesses. The focus of the laws are in catching the “bad guys” using and dealing drugs illegally, with little regard to the innocent people who are unjustly suspected.
How to Carry Medicines
If practical, the way to raise the least suspicion is to carry medicines in their original bottles, with prescription labels attached, and to carry photo identification. Over-the-counter medicines should be carried in their original bottles as well. If you have large bottles, you can ask the pharmacist for a smaller container with the prescription attached that you can put a few doses in. For over-the-counter drugs, you can buy the smallest bottle/packaging to carry with you when you are out of the home.The date of the prescription has no legal consequence, so it does not matter if the script has expired. The expiration is only there for information about the freshness of the medications.
Some of us have 3, 4 or more medicines we need to carry with us. To carry each of these in their original prescription bottles—even if we use smaller bottles—can be cumbersome. It’s much easier to carry a small pill case with one or two doses of several medicines that can be tucked in a front pocket.
When it is not practical to carry the original containers of medications, the next best way to protect yourself if you are confronted by law enforcement is (more…)