4 June, 2021

“Traveling with Medication”

If you have been counting, my insomnia takes 4 prescription PRN (as needed) medications, 3 regular prescription medications, as well as several OTC meds that my doctor has recommended—some of them are pain medications, which anyone might carry, one is melatonin, another medication that is pretty common, and the others are vitamins or allergy medicines, except for one that I struggled with a bit—it is meant to reduce cortisol levels, and thus reduce stress. All meant to keep biological processes humming along, so that nothing wakes me up at night.

I struggled with that last one for a number of reasons. The first is that it is a “supplement,” not a real medication, in spite of the fact that it is, in my case, recommended by a doctor. The second is that cortisol is caused by stress; it doesn’t cause stress, so I am not convinced that eliminating cortisol will make me feel less stressed, and thus sleep better. But I am not the doctor in the equation. The final reason is that among the ingredients are Omega fatty acids, which may be fish-derived. I don’t actually know, but I have checked around, and there does not seem to be another source other than raw milk, and there in much smaller amounts.

If I could know for sure the source for my supplements were milk, it would make me very happy, but I just doubt this is the case, and since I have been a vegetarian since 1986, taking a supplement with a fish ingredient is awkward.

Now, I’m sure I’ve taken medications with animal ingredients before. I’ve probably had capsules that were made of gelatin before. But those were always much more necessary medicines—antibiotics, and the like. And real medicines, not supplements. Albeit a long-time vegetarian, I find it easy not to encounter cognitive dissonance when taking prescribed medications with animal products; medications are necessary, for one, and for another, the line between food and medicine is sharply cut. Between food and supplements, not so much. And as a Jew, I know that the laws of kashrut are absolutely clear: they apply to food eaten for sustenance or pleasure. They do not apply to medicine taken for health. There is a blessing for every kind of food you put in your mouth, but no blessing for taking medicine.*

But that’s not the point. The point is that I take a lot of pills, tables, capsules, etc. on a daily basis.

I have learned that pills in unlabeled bottles—or even improperly labeled—can get you charged with a lesser charge of drug-trafficking called possession of “legend drugs.” I was charged with this after a traffic accident when medications in unlabeled containers (those day-of-the-week AM/PM containers, plus a pocket-pack that looks like a make-up compact) were in my car and my pocket. I received an $80 ticket for “legend drugs.” I had to call a lawyer friend to decode the term for me.

A hearing was scheduled for my ticket, as for any one, and I showed up with evidence (copies of prescriptions, and pictures of the medications) that every drug they found was in fact prescribed for me, or was an OTC medication, and in this particular case, none was a controlled substance. They were mostly OTC pain meds, allergy pills, plus an antibiotic I happened to be on for a UTI, and some medication for migraine headaches. Nothing had any street value. The ticket was dismissed.

Had I been on any of my sleep PRNs at the time, and had something like a benzodiazepine, or Ambien with me—drugs that do, in fact, have a pretty good street value, and are schedule 2 or 3 drugs, it’s unlikely the ticket would have been dismissed, and not only that, but I maybe would have been better off just paying it, and not even letting it be known that I had anything like that with me while I was getting into car accidents, prescription or not, currently present in my system or not.

That was all prelude to my actual topic. For those of you with scorecards, I have 16 medications that I have to tote with me any place I go. Having learned my lesson once, and learned it well, everything goes in a prescription or commercial bottle.

When I buy OTC meds, I buy the large economy bottles, except once. I have one small bottle for everything that I keep around for travel. A 24 pill bottle of Rapid Release Tylenol, a 24 pill bottle of famotidine (for heartburn), a 24 pill bottle of my multivitamin. Every time I get a new prescription bottle, I put the old one aside in case I need to travel; I’ll have a second bottle to carry just enough pills for however long the trip is.

I have a Scooby-doo lunchbox I found at Goodwill, and all the bottles go into it, and then into my carry-on when I fly. I don’t trust the medication to baggage handling. If the bag with the medication got lost, even for a day, I’d be lost.

I went to Israel in 2017, and some of my medications were going to come up for refill while I was there. I was there for just two weeks, but it was still a problem, because one of the medications was a daily. My doctor wrote a new prescription, this time for 60 days instead of 30, and I crossed my fingers that insurance let it go through. It did.

Then, in the summer of 2018, I went to Costa Rica for six weeks for intensive Spanish courses (and the immersion experience). This time, every medication would come for renewal. I needed somehow to get a 45-day supply, and that included the ones that were controlled substances.

This one took a phone call to my insurance company, which wanted to see an image of my itinerary from the airline I was using before it would approve a 2-month prescription. I guess 6-week prescriptions don’t exist.

It did all come together in the end, though. I’ve gone to Greece, Israel, Costa Rica, and taken several domestic flights that were fairly long and required stopovers (flying to California was more complicated, and took longer, than flying to Costa Rica). My luggage always did make it, but I had the medication in a carry-on nonetheless.

It means that I can’t fly low-end coach. Sometimes I fly first class, if I think that is the only way to absolutely guarantee having my carry-on with me—you are in the first boarding group, and get the pick of spots in the overhead bins, or underseat space.

Usually, I fly what is called “Economy Plus” on most planes. You get a few more inches on each side, and several more for your legs, and the seat leans back farther than the seats in regular economy, aka, “coach.” However, the reason I pay the extra money is that with Economy Plus, you can reserve your seat, and for a fee that is usually around $25, get a guarantee that you’ll have in-cabin space for your carry-on. Reserving my seat is important, because I don’t want to be in the very front seat—there’s no underseat stowage.

It’s the policy of most airlines to state that they do not lose luggage. It gets misrouted only when you miss a flight and have to take a different one, or when you hand-transfer for an international flight, and make the mistake yourself. Thus, telling them that you need to keep a bag with you as it is crucial that it not get misrouted, delayed or lost, will not be met with any sympathy, just more assertions that they do not lose luggage.

If you say you are worried that someone else might take your bag by mistake off the belt in baggage claim, they will offer not to put it on the belt, but set it aside with the strollers, wheelchairs, and occasional valuable pieces that people can pick up only when they show the matching ticket.

So you find your own solution.

I guess I should just count myself lucky that I can.


* There is a prayer for a medication to be effective, but it is not formatted like all the blessings for the different kinds of food.

Published by Chava Freya

Insomnia is a brain-based disorder I’ve had since I was at least 16 years old. Anti-anxiety medicine doesn’t help, except when there’s external anxiety exacerbating the problem. Sleep hygiene is irrelevant, because it’s not the problem, although I have submitted to it five different times, including having sleep specialists actually come to my home and advise me on rearranging furniture, buying special pillows, forbidding TVs in the bedroom, telling me the bed was for nothing but sleep, sex and reading, and when that didn’t work, then nothing but sleep. Period. That was the biggest failure of all.

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