Patty asks: We are going on a cruise this Sunday, and my husband and I wonder if we need to keep our prescription pills in the original bottles, or can we keep them in our pill counters?
The “official” advice has always been that prescription meds should be in their original containers, particularly Schedule II narcotics and other “sensitive” drugs. But is that really necessary? Let’s look at each of the scenarios in which legal problems could arise with loose prescription meds:
TSA: If you’re flying, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) doesn't care, though you’ll want to transport the meds in your carry-on bag and follow TSA rules for liquids and gels.
The Cruise Line: This answer may vary by line. Although Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, doesn’t require the original bottles, it does recommend them. You’ll want to check with your cruise line to verify any requirements.
Foreign Ports: You didn’t mention your itinerary, but this is where you’re most likely to encounter a problem. Drug laws vary widely from country to country, and while it’s unlikely you’ll be stopped in port and questioned about your meds, it is a possibility. Proof of prescription will certainly make that situation a lot easier.
Returning to the U.S.: Customs and Border Protection recommend that medication be in original bottles and labeled with the Doctor's name. Again, it’s unlikely that you'll be questioned, but if your baggage is searched upon reentry or a drug-sniffing dog “hits” on your bag, proof of a prescription will make things go much smoother.
Medical Emergency: In case of medical emergency, the doctor on the ship or ashore will need to know what medications you’re taking. Having the original bottles can only help, especially if you’re unable to communicate. Also, in the event of unexpected problems during your trip that cause you to need to replace or refill a prescription, having the prescription details and contact information for the pharmacy and doctor on the bottle will surely speed the process along.
In short, there doesn’t seem to be a legal reason to carry the original bottles, but in practicality, it’s a good idea.