Coronavirus: Running Out Of Medications? Here's How You Can Refill A Foreign Prescription In The US

Your mother runs out of her blood pressure medication. Can she refill her prescription at a U.S. pharmacy? You forgot to bring your Ayurvedic medicines. Can your parents mail it to you from India? Your father is traveling to the U.S and wants to carry his prescription medications that aren’t available OTC in the US. Can you? These are just some of the questions people who need medications worry about. So, what are the rules for refilling or shipping medications or flying to the US with them? 

How to refill medicines at the local pharmacy in the US?

If you need a prescription filled, you should visit a local doctor as very few pharmacies can fill a foreign prescription, and this is determined on a state-by-state basis. Therefore, it is very important that you have a travel insurance and your foreign prescription. You need to show your foreign prescription to the local US doctor and request him/her to issue you a local prescription which you can use to buy medication in the US. May be you can reach out to your PCP and request them to fill in a prescription for your parents. If you do not have a PCP, most Urgent Cares are more than happy to write you a prescription on the basis of your foreign prescription. But, they may run some tests on you before that to assess your medical condition. However, before going to the doctor, visit your local pharmacy first and ask them if they can give you the medicines on the basis of the foreign prescription or if a generic version of the medicine is available OTC. 

Alternatively, you can try getting your medicines shipped from your home country. However, that might take long because there is lockdown even in your home country. So, you medicine can  only be shipped after the lockdown is over. Moreover, there is no guarantee that your medicines will arrive to the US. Read the next section for details.

Can you ship medicines to the US?

Depends! As a general rule, the FDA does not allow prescription medications to be mailed to the U.S. However, if you are here temporarily and need to be sent your prescription medication, there are a couple of things you should do In most cases, it’s illegal for people to import drugs into the United States for personal use. However, if you need a medicine that is not available in the US, you can import a 3 month supply of that medicine for personal use. To do this, you must have a letter, written in English, from your doctor saying the drug is a continuation of treatment that began in your home country (if possible  provide the name and address of a U.S. doctor who will supervise your use of the foreign drug). The letter should accompany the package and be addressed to a CBP officer.
However, this process can take about a month as CBP gets it examined by a FDA inspector before releasing the package. To speed things up, make sure the outside of the  package states that it contains a letter to the CBP officer. The best option is to send the package by a reputed courier service and flag it to the CBP/FDA officers to alert them about the special circumstances for sending the package.

How to bring medicines to the US for personal consumption?

Yes! However, when you come to the US with medications, you fall under the authority of FDA, CBP and TSA. There are varying restrictions, and different agencies may have other requirements or jurisdiction over a product. 
My parents visit me all the time and all these years they have been carrying a valid (current) prescription or doctor’s note and the original pharmacy receipt- in English- with them. Their medications are always in its original container. They travel with no more than they need for their personal use during your stay, may be a weeks extra supply just in case they run out of stock or it gets lost/damaged. According to the FDA, one should not bring more than a 90-day supply of medication
In the same way, my parents also carry my medicines with them when they come to the US. If you’re staying longer than 90 days, you may have additional medication sent to you by mail or courier. 

Updated on 13 May 2020: I took my parents to Patient First yesterday to get their BP medicines refilled- walk in, no prior appointment was taken. My parents showed their foreign prescription that their doctor from India had sent over to them on WhatsApp. The doctor checked their BP and gave them a prescription. I got them refilled at the local Safeway Pharmacy. They take about 3-4 hours for preparing your prescription. I would suggest that you don't wait till the last minute to get your prescription drugs refilled to avoid last minute worries and crisis.