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My Medicines Weren't Allowed Into The U.S.
Pat got to the US border with a bag full of meds. US Customs refused him entry. Why? What did he do wrong? David "El Codo" Eidell explains.

My Medicines Weren't Allowed Into The U.S.
David "El Codo" Eidell

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By David Eidell
Posted Monday, December 2, 2002

Pat writes from Arizona:


We just returned from a day trip to Los Algodones where we purchased some arthritic medicine. After having read the article by David saying I could bring back 50 doses of a controlled drug if I had a prescription by a Mexican Dr., I went that route. Got the prescription for 20 tablets of Percodan.

However, when we came back to the border the Customs Officials detained me, told us we could NOT take ANY controlled substance into US unless we also had a US prescription. They told us to take it back to the DR. in Algodones and get our money back. Luckily, he did refund our money which was $30.00.. Lesson learned... Just thought we would pass this on. Pat Phoenix, AZ.

David "El Codo" Eidell Replies: The following excerpted paragraph is from today's U.S. Customs Website "Guide For Travelers" Regarding importation of prescription medicines for personal use:

"The U.S. Customs Service enforces Federal laws and regulations, including those of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A new bill was recently passed by Congress that amends a portion of the Controlled Substances Act (21USC956(a)). This amendment allows a United States resident to import up to 50 dosage units of a controlled medication without a valid prescription at an international land border.


When we came back to the border the Customs Officials detained me, told us we could NOT take ANY controlled substance into US unless we also had a US prescription.


These medications must be declared upon arrival, be for your own personal use and in their original container. However, travelers should be aware that drug products which are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may not be acceptable for such importation. FDA warns that such drugs are often of unknown quality and discourages buying drugs sold in foreign countries. Please go to for further information.

I strongly suspect that a maverick inspector decided to impart his own version of exactly what is allowable. A citizen is allowed to "appeal" a customs inspector's "decision" on the spot to the supervisor on duty. If the supervisor over rides the agent's decision then the matter is settled right then and there.

If a supervisor were to "agree" with the agent and disallow the medication, this is what I would do:

1) Politely ask for the supervisor's full name and badge number.
2) Redirect your question to read: "EXACTLY WHY IS THIS MEDICINE DISALLOWED ENTRY FOR MY OWN PERSONAL USE?" Carefully copy the answer down (word for word).
3) Ask for the telephone number and or mailing address of the PORT DIRECTOR of that particular port and the telephone number of the relevant department of US CUSTOMS in Washington DC.
4) When you get home FOLLOW UP on your grievance. Mail a copy of your letter to the Port Director and an exact copy to US Customs Washington, DC. Follow up with a telephone call.

US Customs agents remind me of a lot of Mexican cops -- they get rather sloppy on enforcement because few "customers" take the time to complain. The more organized, detached and polite the complaints become, the more serious the Port Director and Washington DC will take them. And keep in mind my favorite saying about US Customs Agents: "They don't have to be smart -- just suspicious"

As late as 2001, a US Customs Agent tried to be Dick Tracy with Celebrex. He mistakenly thought Celebrex was somehow related to Valium and remarked "That Stuff's Illegal!" His supervisor (a-special-agent) frowned slightly as he over-rode the agent's decision. The only thing that the complaining agent remarked was "Next!"

BUT...BUT...BUT... A caveat needs to be added to the articles about this particular "rub". One careless decision by a federal flunky could ruin someone's carefully laid plans to LEGALLY obtain medicine for a LEGITIMATE medical reason.


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