Recently, I took a trip to America, bringing with me some medication which was prescribed by my doctor in the UK.

I didn't realise at the time that the medication in question was not available over the counter in the UK, and I'd brought too little of it with me. So before heading home I went to the local drug store, where it was available over the counter, to get more.

I now had more than I needed for the trip, so I brought it back with me, assuming this was fine.

About a week later I discovered that I now had more than the prescribed amount of a prescription-only drug.

Of course, it's too late to do anything about it now, but did I break a law here? Was this actually smuggling? Should I have walked through the 'something to declare' lane?

  • UK law or US law?
    – CMaster
    Sep 2, 2016 at 13:13
  • @CMaster Either, really. I'm pretty sure I didn't break US law as I bought something that was readily available. The question is about moving it between countries.
    – AJFaraday
    Sep 2, 2016 at 13:14
  • 6
    @MichaelHampton It's really not. The USA has a much stronger pharmaceutical lobby, and so drugs are far less regulated, and much more expensive. OTC medication in the UK is a very narrow range by comparison.
    – AJFaraday
    Sep 2, 2016 at 14:00
  • 2
    @mts note that it's possible for a drug to be prescription only but not on that list (search on random antibiotic names for example). If the drug in question is a painkiller, tranquiliser, etc. the situation might be rather different to an antibiotic. Sep 2, 2016 at 14:38
  • 1
    Check the dosage. American OTC Naproxen is limited to a certain mg per pill. There is a prescription version which is, as far as I could tell, more medicine per pill and not different in any other way. I don't know why the doctors thought my messed-up Achilles tendon would keep my from swallowing two or three naproxen at once. Sep 2, 2016 at 17:55

1 Answer 1


INC from JustAnswer UKLaw wrote:

It is illegal to buy prescription-only drugs without a prescription or consultation in the UK, whether on or offline. This law currently does not apply to websites based abroad as long as you're buying for personal use. The same rule applies if you were to bring them through airport customs here.

There is currently a loophole in UK in the Medicines Act 1968 which means that although many drugs can be dispensed only after a patient has consulted a doctor, the consultation need not be face-to-face. Therefore quick online consultations with net doctors make such dodgy transactions legal.

Therefore, in response to your question, it is legal to import non-prescription drugs provided you are not selling them on without the appropriate licences.

I think this is typically legalistic gobbledegook for:

for personal use, it is legal to import (from an overseas website or in person by air) what the UK would consider 'prescription-only' medicine even when not actually prescribed.

So unless you were planning at the time of re-entry to flog them on, the answers to your questions are: NO, NO and NO respectively (rest easy!).

I forgot to mention that the date of the quote above is showing as 7 years ago. That is a bit alarming given There is currently a loophole in UK in the Medicines Act 1968 ie even at that time some grounds for expecting a change in the legislation. However if changed only to close the loohpole then only face to face consultations may have been affected.

The 1968 Act appears still current.

Note also:

Possession of a prescription only drug without a prescription is only an offence if the drug is also controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and possession is thus specified as an offence. Therefore, for example, possession of a prescription only antibiotic without a prescription is not an offence.

Whatever the medicine, if OTC in USA it is not at all likely to be controlled under the 1971 Act.

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