Are You Planning on Crossing the Boarder with Prescription Drugs?

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DEA to host national prescription drug take-back 160324-F-HC995-002Prescription medications can be outrageously expensive in the U.S., especially if you don’t have good health insurance. The total cost of getting a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration runs upwards of $2.6 billion. Unfortunately for patients, those costs trickle down to your local pharmacy’s cash register. This problem has motivated quite a few Texans to cross the border and fill their prescriptions at Mexican outlets. From a legal stand point, bringing medication into the country may put you in a difficult position, and there can be severe consequences. While it’s legal (in some cases) to buy south of the border, the rules and regulations can be a bit unclear.

Is it legal to buy in Mexico?

To some degree, the answer is yes. But it’s not quite that ‘black and white’. In Mexico, many U.S. controlled substances are sold over the counter. The rules can be somewhat lax in Mexico, but if you’re planning on bringing them back, remember that once you get on American soil, our laws apply. You can get into hot water with border agents if you don’t know the rules.

What are the rules for bringing medication across the boarder?

There are two different government agencies that oversee importing medications — U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They have slightly different rules about prescription drugs.

The CBP appears to allow up to 50 doses of a medication without a U.S. prescription. However, that doesn’t mean you can cross into the U.S. with just anything. You cannot bring back narcotics of any class, and marijuana, though legal in some states, is not legal at the federal level. In addition, they must be drugs that have already been approved for distribution in the U.S.  In other words, if you can’t get them in an American pharmacy, you can’t bring them into the country.

The FDA has a slightly different perspective. Their guidelines are based more on a three-month supply, or 90-days. The FDA requires that you have a valid prescription and the drug is legal in U.S. You can also apply to the FDA to import medications that the U.S. doesn’t currently have on the market. Keep in mind that you’ll need pre-approval. They use “discretion” under certain circumstances that include:

  • Products used for serious conditions that don’t present a “significant health risk”
  • Drugs that aren’t available in the U.S. and do not pose a serious health risk

For practical purposes, the confusion for people trying to just save a little money seems to be between buying 50 or 90 doses.

What do I need to declare to legally bring medication from Mexico into the United States?

If you decide to buy in Mexico, keep in mind that you will encounter border agents, and those are the folks you’ll be dealing with face to face. Like any law enforcement organization, they enjoy a certain degree of discretion about how they apply the regulations. Don’t hesitate to contact them before trekking across the border. Also, answer border agents’ questions truthfully and declare exactly what you are bringing back. The last thing you want is a criminal charge over saving a few bucks.

If you run into a problem bringing anything into the U.S., it’s important that you get legal counsel from an experienced attorney right away.  A criminal charge that leads to a conviction and criminal record isn’t worth any monetary savings from buying medication in Mexico.  Having an aggressive attorney on your side can ensure your continued freedom and clean criminal history.

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