Traveling abroad: Prescription drug names can be misleading

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Traveling abroad: Prescription drug names can be misleading

Traveling abroad? Make sure your prescriptions are filled correctly.

When traveling abroad, it's always a good idea to bring your written prescriptions with you just in case your medications are lost or stolen, or you run out. But watch out — what you may not realize is that the brand name of some medications won't get you the same medication in another country. You may be handed a medication whose brand name is identical or similar to the one you requested but which contains completely different active ingredients. This mix-up could cause a health emergency.

For instance, if you take Flomax in the United States for enlarged prostate and ask for it in Italy, the Flomax you receive won't treat your enlarged prostate. It's an anti-inflammatory medication. If you take Precose in the United States for diabetes and ask for it in Scandinavia, you might receive Precosa, which treats antibiotic-related diarrhea.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid such dangerous miscommunications when traveling abroad.

Purchasing the right medication when traveling abroad: Safety tips

To help you avoid purchasing the wrong medication when traveling abroad, the Food and Drug Administration has compiled a list of drugs that go by different names in different countries. Check this list several days before your trip. If your medication appears on the list, ask your doctor for a prescription providing both the generic and brand names of your medication. That way the pharmacist in the country you're visiting will have two qualifiers to meet before filling your prescription. The list is available electronically and is updated as necessary.

In addition, tell the pharmacist in the country you're visiting which disease or condition your medication is designed to treat. You might need to bring someone with you to translate this information. Your hotel concierge may be able to help you find a translator.

If you travel abroad frequently, ask your pharmacist to routinely add both the generic name and the brand name of your medication to the prescription label.

If you don't have both the generic and brand name of your medications with you and you need to purchase medication while traveling abroad, you can find this information over the Internet using online drug directories.

Avoid the need to purchase medications abroad

Instead of taking a chance on a refill in another country, avoid the possibility of a miscommunication altogether by taking along an ample supply of extra medication. This will ensure that you won't run out and you won't need to order more. Be sure to store medications on your person so that they won't be lost or stolen en route to your destination. Another option is to place an extra supply of your medications in a separate place, such as in your companion's carry-on luggage.

Last Updated: 04/14/2006
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