How Can Full-Time RVers Get Medications?
Over 48% of US citizens took at least one prescription medication in the past 30 days, and prescription drugs of all types comprise over 16% of total health care expenses. We all know that a large number of people rely on medications to treat chronic and acute conditions and to sustain their health and quality of life.
Full-time RVers are just a subset of the general population, and they too rely on a plethora of medications to control high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, anxiety, pain, or a number of other physical and psychological conditions. But how are full-time RVers supposed to get their prescriptions drugs while they are traveling in an RV?
To be clear, and as a cautionary side note, all prescription drugs are controlled substances, and taking any of them outside of the physician’s specific directions could be construed as abuse of a controlled substance, which is illegal. This includes:
- driving a vehicle when the prescription warns against it,
- not taking the number of pills denoted on the prescription for as long as directed,
- taking them beyond the expiration date,
- sharing them with others,
- transferring them to another container, including a weekly or monthly pill box, and
- potentially transporting them from state to state.
I mention this because most people don’t think about the possibility of running afoul of the law by simply using and managing their prescriptions, like they did when they were still living at a fixed address.
The ubiquitous use of weekly/monthly pill organizers might create the biggest challenge and liability for RVers. The law requires prescriptions to be kept in their original containers. The containers have traceable prescription numbers, descriptive information about the strength of the medication, the dose, duration, and restrictions of the prescription (such as no driving), the name of the person to whom they are prescribed, and a clear description of what each pill looks like so it can be identified.
Medical ID Info
If you happen to be involved in an accident or have a medical emergency, your weekly pill dispenser would be of no use to someone trying to attend to your physical needs, but the actual prescription pill bottles would provide all the information to the emergency personnel.
Additionally, if possible, your prescription bottles (if located in your RV) could be transported along with you to the hospital; your weekly pill box would not be sent to the hospital by first responders.
While we’re down this rabbit hole, I might as well go all in and strongly encourage you to fill out the Medical ID information page on your smartphone. If you are unable to advocate for yourself, first responders will attempt to gather information from your phone. They need to know all the meds you use, any allergies, drug reactions, medical conditions, or other pertinent medical history.
Furthermore, you can use this vital communication tool to clearly describe where in your RV you keep your prescription drugs. Then, if possible, emergency personnel might be able to retrieve your meds and send them with you to the hospital.
- If you have an iPhone, you can find this page in Settings>Health>Medical ID.
- If you have an Android, you will need to download an app which will create a Medical ID page that is accessible without unlocking your phone. Click here for a link to a Medical ID application.
- Be diligent. Taking the time now to do this might someday save your life.
How can full-time RVers get their medications?
Now regarding the question, “How can full-time RVers get their medications?” It all starts with your doctor. Additionally, now with COVID restricting in-person doctor consultations, you can easily access medical professionals through “Telehealth” Zoom calls or other secure video conferencing apps. This works especially well for full-time travelers.
However, if you are reluctant to use Telehealth resources, and you still want to sit face-to-face with your primary care physician, and the state in which you live is not centrally located within the US, you might benefit from changing your domicile location to a state that is more in the center of the country.
South Dakota is very popular with full-time RVers. If you change your domicile state, you’ll need to find a new doctor in that state and let your insurance provider know you’ve changed your residency. You’ll also need to license your vehicles and obtain a driver’s license from your domicile state, so before going full-time, plan to go there to take care of these details.
Domicile in your current state
If you decide to retain your current state of residency, you won’t need to find a new doctor, but you most certainly should schedule an appointment with your doctor (in person or via video) to discuss your plans to embark on a nomadic lifestyle.
Your doctor might be able to write prescriptions for bulk medications (a 90-day supply) and possibly write extra prescriptions to be filled on designated future dates while you are traveling. This may not be possible in every state or with Schedule 2 drugs.
Schedule 2 Drugs
Typically, prescriptions for Schedule 2 drugs can only be written for 30 days. The actual physical prescription must be given to the pharmacist (not called or faxed in by the doctor’s office), and it may be illegal for your doctor to write extra prescriptions for Schedule 2 drugs with future dates.
Schedule 2 drugs are the most tightly controlled prescriptions because they have the potential to be physically and/or psychologically addicting, so they are carefully monitored by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Schedule 2 drugs are often loosely referred to as controlled substances, but in reality, all prescriptions drugs fall under that definition in the law, not just Schedule 2 drugs.
Even Viagra, Warfarin, and antibiotics are controlled substances. Every state medical board sets the policies that govern and restrict physicians in that state. Therefore, you must know what drugs you need, what laws govern them, and if you will be able to obtain them while you travel.
How to find drop-in clinics
In the worst case scenario, if you depend on Schedule 2 pharmaceuticals and you are only able to secure a month’s supply of these drugs, you may need to visit emergency clinics during your travels to see new doctors and obtain new prescriptions, or you can travel in an area close enough to your domicile state that you can circle back around every month and pick up a new prescription. You’d be surprised how far you can travel in a month.
We left Central Florida on November 20, 2019 and arrived in Palm Desert California on December 16, 2019 after spending extra time in Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona.
If you have to “go home” every month, you can still enjoy your full-time RV journey. We traveled in the Northwest for over 20 years in an RV. We couldn’t leave the Northwest because we had a business to run and couldn’t spent too long away from the business, but after 20 years in one region, we still had hundreds of places to visit that we hadn’t seen, plus all the places we fell in love with along the way that we wanted to revisit repeatedly.
What I’m trying to say is this limitation does not need to throttle back your excitement about your new full-time adventure.
Use National Chain Pharmacies
Most people’s prescriptions drugs are not Schedule 2 drugs. They can be purchased in bulk from national chains like CVS, Walmart, or Walgreens, and your prescription records will be in their national database, so your prescriptions can be accessed from wherever.
The refills script can typically be called in or faxed to the pharmacy by your doctor, and if you plan ahead, you can easily get your refills long before you run out. Another way to obtain your prescriptions is to use a mail order pharmacy and have your meds sent to your domicile address, then forwarded to your current location by your mail forwarding service.
How to get medication while traveling abroad
There is one caveat to this discourse. If you are traveling internationally (US citizens in Canada or Canadian citizens in the US), refilling your prescriptions may be more challenging.
Many pharmacies are not able to fill the prescriptions of international physicians. Some pharmacies in Texas and Arizona said under the right circumstances with the right drugs, they could fill the prescriptions, while California pharmacies said they absolutely could not.
You’ll need to really plan ahead with your doctor, pharmacist, and maybe even customs. If you are Canadian snowbirders headed to the US sunbelt for 6 months, you might be able to obtain a 6-month supply of medication from your Canadian pharmacy, but will not be able to bring that quantity of that drug across the border.
Every state, every jurisdiction, and every country has laws that could impact your decisions and your plans. If you haven’t started on your full-time journey yet, then now is the time to talk with your doctor, your insurance provider, customs (if you plan to cross the border), and state or provincial officials in the state(s) or province(s) in which you plan to travel.
Not only do you need to take time to plan your travels and destinations, but be sure your plan also includes all the steps needed for procuring essential and life-sustaining drugs. Whatever you do, don’t get stressed about all this. You will find a way to fulfill your dream of being a full-time RVer.
Who knows, you might also discover that the full-time RV lifestyle is liberating. It will give you plenty of fresh air and time for outdoor exercise, where you can soak up sun-supplied vitamin D, and this new leisurely lifestyle might actually improve your health, even eliminating your need for some medications.
Find health insurance for RVers
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Peggy Dent is an author, writer, and full-time RVer, traveling around the US and Canada. She’s traveled more than 130,000 miles in a motorhome, over the past 20 years, and is currently writing for the RV industry. You can contact her through her website at www.APenInYourHand.com