My girlfriend and her sister will be going to Canada for two weeks at the start of July. They both use drugs recreationally and aren't open with their family and are quite isolated.

My girlfriends sister has obtained methadone from a friend and wants to know the legality of travelling with it

Her only issue is that it would be confiscated if she packs it in carry-on luggage due to the 100ml 3.4 fluid ounce limit however I'm a bit shocked that they aren't more concerned about the legal status. My girlfriend won't travel with her sister if she brings it because she's worried it might be illegal.

The sister doesn't have a prescription for it and AFAIK, I told her that methadone is a controlled substance in nearly every country and so carrying it across an international border without any good reason is like smuggling heroin. She'll certainly faces prison time and/or hefty fines.

But I'm not sure, I have a few friends who borrowed opiate pills from their relatives in the States and brought them over to Ireland and they weren't stopped.

Will it be an issue or not?

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    Your first reaction sounds correct to me. "They weren't stopped" does not mean they wouldn't have been in pretty deep trouble if they were stopped or otherwise found out. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 12:57
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about smuggling. Travel.SE does not provide assistance with breaking the law. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 13:05
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    @RobertColumbia: The question just asks whether it is legal. A perfectly good answer would be "No it isn't" and I'm in the process of writing such an answer. The question doesn't ask how to get away with it. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 13:09
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    @RobertColumbia The question isn't asking for assistance breaking the law. It's asking for confirmation that something is illegal and the context is one of not approving of that act ("I told her that [it's illegal]", "My girlfriend won't travel with her sister if she brings it because she's worried it might be illegal"). Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 15:34
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    Methadone is a "Schedule I" controlled substance, in the same class as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, ketamine and amphetamines. There is no distinction in law between these examples and unprescribed methadone. She might as well be taking cocaine or heroin through the border in the eyes of the law. It would be reckless in the extreme.
    – spender
    Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 21:52

3 Answers 3


It is not legal to bring methadone into Canada without a prescription.

Methadone is a controlled drug in Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (it's in Schedule I, number 5 (4)). It is illegal to import a controlled drug into Canada without authorization (section 6, "Importing and Exporting"). The maximum punishment is life imprisonment; I suspect in practice the punishment would be less, but I don't know how much. It probably wouldn't be good.

There is an exemption that can apply for prescription medications for a traveler's own use, but since the drug was not legally prescribed to your girlfriend or her sister, the exemption does not apply.

If they declare the drugs at Customs, the drugs will certainly be confiscated, and they may or may not be punished. If they don't declare them, their luggage may be randomly searched, and if caught they will almost certainly be punished.

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    I'm not sure if drug dogs search out Methadone, but that seems like a huge risk to me. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 21:42
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    Note that even if it's not considered "trafficking", mere unauthorized possession of a Schedule I controlled substance still attracts up to seven years in jail per 4 (1) and (3). Doesn't sound worth betting that the drug dogs won't pay attention.
    – TooTea
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 20:34
  • The punishment will be much less. "Life imprisonment" is intended for people organizing the smuggling of multiple shipments of tons of drugs - not for people bringing it in for their own recreational use. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 13:54
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    @MartinBonner I wouldn't count on that. People with minor charges have ended up with huge sentences because they wouldn't testify against a supplier.
    – Bill K
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 20:00

I am going to assume you want to advise them on the correct and legal behavior, not help them circumvent the rules.

First, medications are exempt from the 100ml rule and everyone advises you keep your meds in carryon. (For example, here's the advice for Canadian travellers.) It should have a label that identifies it. I have never been asked to show a doctor letter or other paperwork for prescription meds, but in theory you should have this too. If the label identifies it as medication, being over 100 ml should not be an issue. Of course if it is in some sort of unlabeled container, there is going to be problem with that. This will apply when leaving Ireland, clearing security to get on the plane. I suppose if it says something on the label that gets the agent's attention, they could call the local police, but their focus is really on making sure nobody blows up the plane.

Second, while many people put all sorts of things in their checked luggage without consequence, this doesn't mean that there is no problem bringing things into countries where they are controlled. There are xrays and such that are on arrival to look for things like drugs in people's bags. There are sniffer dogs in the arrivals area, and trained border agents who send people to secondary for more inspection. If this methadone had been prescribed to your friend, then bringing it would be ok if

The drug must be for your use or for the use of a person who is travelling with you and for whom you are responsible. The drug must be in hospital or pharmacy-dispensed packaging, the original retail packaging, or have the original label attached to it clearly indicating what the health product is and what it contains.

(A quote from the link above.)

If it's just in some sort of jam jar with no label, there's going to be a problem. Smuggling opiates is non trivial. Hoping to get away with it is not a strategy. If the friends are unable to get any methadone prescribed to them, and unable to function without it, then the trip is a bad idea.

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    I can easily believe that they don't check prescriptions for a wide range of medication. But I bet it would be the first thing they asked for if somebody came to the border with methadone. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 15:41
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    "I have never been asked to show a doctor letter or other paperwork for prescription meds" Have you ever tried to cross a border while carrying drugs that can be used recreationally? I wouldn't be surprised to find that they're fairly uninterested in stuff like antibiotics or whatever, but are much more cautious when dealing with things like opiates. Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 10:46
  • I have taken pseudoephedrine into New Zealand. It is banned there, and I was told it required a letter, which I got, but on arrival no-one was interested in the letter. Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 11:29
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    @KateGregory pseudoephedrine isn't banned in NZ, but it is a Class B controlled substance. NZ has a much higher risk from domestic meth farms than they do from importation these days - when you rent a property, there is typically a meth test done on the property and the results made available, its that rife here.
    – user29788
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 22:10

There are a whole string of violations here.

  • Failure to Declare the medication. It is a crime to fail to declare anything on a long list of things you need to declare, and you bet medicine is at the top of that list. The only way out of that one is to declare "Yes, I have methadone in my bag". Otherwise if you're caught, it's big trouble, a big fine, and you will not be visiting Canada anymore. But if you admit to having it, you evade that charge but not these:

  • Possession of methadone without a prescription. That itself is a crime even if they were not crossing an international border.

  • Importing drugs into Canada. Obviously, trying to import narcotics into Canada is a serious felony, so they will get to be the guests of the RCMP for a number of years, and will not successfully visit any other countries for the rest of their lives, because they'll be in all the databases as a convicted felon.

And your girlfriend will be neck deep in this if she is connected with the friend at all. And she will be connected with the friend because young people can't stop using social media, and will be shown to be fully cognizant of the plot (and thus an accomplice). The texts will be found. This SE post will be found. Everything will be found. Cops are very good at police forensics, young people are very bad at it, and drug use doesn't help. International authorities tend to regard friends traveling together as mutually culpable.

Also it is possible for drug users to entangle other people into their schemes.

Your girlfriend's best bet is to either not go, or find a pretense to travel separately. Both ways.

Your best bet is making sure not to travel with them.

  • Opioid Use Disorder is in the DSM. It is a diagnosable mental illness. For all it's faults, the inclusion in the DSM is the best heuristic we have as to whether or not something is a mental illness or not. I'm not a doctor but I've spent an awful lot of time with doctors and in facilities dedicated to treating things of this exact nature. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 3:05
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    My many years' experience practicing criminal law supports @Harper's original word choices: drug users are a lot more...um... flexible with their truth-telling than non-users, and much more likely to manipulate others to serve their own ends. His advice is spot-on. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 4:05
  • Do you have a cite that the sentence for bring a small quantity of methadone (not enough to trade) is likely to be result in a sentence of years? I also expect that most countries cannot view Canada's database of convictions, so it may well have no impact of future travel. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 13:59
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    @MartinBonner Are you proposing to lie to other countries' IO's in the future when they ask you "ever been convicted of a crime" or "ever been refused entry"? (Pretty sure if you are caught smuggling, jailed then deported, that's a refusal). As linked in comments, methadone is Schedule I. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 14:12
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    @Willeke Well-cleaned. If medicine has intervened because a person's life is being ruined, I believe the purpose of the DSM is to provide reporting codes for that. Not declare all instances of that behavior to be mental illness. But that's a point on which I can agree to disagree. Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 18:18

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