The ADHD meds I’m dependent on are banned in the countries I visit most often.
My girlfriend and I have been dating for five years and we are both obsessed with Japan. We had silly country posters on the walls of our childhood rooms, and we were often fascinated by minimalism and ryokan architecture. If we were to get married, it would obviously be the honeymoon place.
But one day, while I was browsing TikTok, dreaming that we’d finally have fun domestically, I ran into a very unexpected problem: Japan doesn’t allow Adela into its borders. I was shocked to learn that they wouldn’t allow the drug I’ve been taking every day since I was 13, but even more shocked that the drug was banned outright. In fact, back home, you could go to jail for carrying a capsule on your person.
Japan’s ban on Adela dates back to laws enacted after World War II over the high addiction to methamphetamine and stimulants. According to History.com, during World War II, amphetamines were used to prevent soldier fatigue, and kamikaze pilots also relied on amphetamines. All stimulants, including Adderall, were banned by the government in 1951 after they were found to be highly addictive, according to the Tokyo Weekend newspaper.
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Japan is not the only country with such laws. Singapore, for example, also has strict restrictions on the drug, as does much of Europe. In Europe, however, it is sufficient to pack the drug in its original prescription bottle and carry a doctor’s note. In Singapore, you need a visa, but there is no mention of imprisonment as a penalty. While the death penalty applies to certain drug offenses in Singapore and many other Asian countries, Japan has the most severe penalties for stimulants such as Adderall, which can carry up to 10 years in prison.
The US embassy in Japan states, “Many common and over-the-counter medications in the US are illegal in Japan. It doesn’t matter if you have a valid US prescription for a drug/drug that is illegal in Japan: if you carry it, you risk being banned.” Risk of arrest and detention by Japanese authorities.”
This is another challenge that travelers with ADHD face when planning a trip. The other is the insurance itself. My insurance, and many others, only allow patients to purchase a month’s supply at a time, and pre-filling is not an option. This means that if you refill at the beginning of the month, but take a week-long trip at the end of the month that overlaps the next month, you won’t be able to refill. There is a way to cover this, but pharmacies and insurance companies can only do it once a year.
The situation is compounded by the fact that the drug has become increasingly scarce across the country. The United States is facing one of the worst drug shortages on record due to supply chain issues. Personally, I’ve been calling different pharmacies in the area to make sure they have it in stock before my doctor prescribes it, and according to the pharmacists and doctors I’ve interviewed, I’m not alone.
If you can find Adderall and make sure you have enough money to travel, here are two suggestions for safely bringing medications into the country. The first is simple: take a different drug. You can bring up to 2.16 grams of Concerta or Ritalin into Japan without a permit. Alternatively, you can also carry a month’s supply of Vyvanse without a license, according to the Japanese embassy. Of course, switching to a different medication is not easy, and some patients report nausea or ineffectiveness when switching medications, so check with your doctor.
The second option is more complicated. You can apply for a Yakkan Shoumei, which is an import certificate that allows the import of otherwise prohibited drugs. This will allow you to carry more than 2.16 grams of methylphenidate, which works the same if you want to bring more of said drug into the country. The embassy recommends applying at least two weeks before travel.
While it’s not entirely impossible to travel with ADHD medication, it’s still more difficult than you might think. During a recent trip to Singapore, I successfully applied for a similar visa. Nobody checked my visa or my bag for drugs, but it was nice to have. After all, I didn’t want to spend the entire trip in a foreign prison.