How do airports differentiate supplements from drugs?

  • I was just packing for an international flight, and realized that my little plastic bags of protein powder and creatine look an awful lot like the bags of cocain I see on tv. Does the airport have some way to identify drugs, or should I leave it at home?

    I make my own mix of BCAAs creatine CLA etc. so I can't just bring it in the original packaging, it's all in carefully measured individual bags which look a lot like what I imagine a drug dealer might be carrying to sell, along with a bunch of vitamin pills.

    Maybe sniffer dogs?

    yes airports can do a chemical sample or use a machine, you wont get in trouble if everything is legal

    With all medications, supplements, etc., the best solution is to keep them in the original packaging. For prescription meds, make sure the label identifies the drug and has your name on it. You say can't do this, but it's unclear to me why not.

    The answer is that they often can't, which is why you can buy drugs in any country despite the prohibition.

    Take special note of countries where drug possession may be a capital crime. You might decide nothing is worth that risk if you are traveling to such a country.

    what country are you going to that doesn't sell creatine and vitamins?

    @Iwrestledabearonce. You may be surpised how different the prices and quality for common goods are. Some easily available pharmaceuticals are in the US cheap as dirt in contrast to e.g. the German counterparts (the more I pay, the higher the placebo effect? :-/ ). There are also minor quality exports, e.g. there was an uproar because many German firms are selling minor quality products to Eastern Europe...for the same price.

    Counter question: Does it even make sense to bring these? Swallowing BCAA wihout workout is kinda pointless, and creatine, for what little it is good, needs about 3 days of intake after returning home to fully saturate the last cell in your body. Plus, if you absolutely insist, you can buy creatine really cheap virtually everywhere. Even in Germany where stuff is exessively expensive compared to e.g. US, you get half a kilogram for 6-8€, so just buy that and throw away the 450g that you don't use during your trip.

    @Damon a lot of people keep working out when traveling. Gyms are ubiquitous these days in hotels.

  • First, your bags of powders probably don't look like the bags of drugs. Yours are probably designed to be opened and then sealed again, and they are probably not reinforced with a lot of tape, shaped into bricks, etc.

    Second, they have on-the-spot tools to test suspicious powders: the swab and the little plastic bag with liquid reagents called a NIK test. The swab is a cloth (possibly pre-dampened with something) that they can rub on your hands, the zippers of your bag, etc and then put in a machine that might beep and say "cocaine" or "explosives" because you had residue on your hands. The little plastic bag they drop in a few grains of the powder, squeeze the bag to break the inner ampoule that holds reagents, and then shake (they hold the top of the bag and flick at the bottom repeatedly) and it changes colour if the powder is a known drug. I believe there are different bags to detect different things, and the agents choose which one to use based on the colour and smell of the powder, as well as the country the bag is coming from.

    Almost any episode of Border Security will give you a chance to see these in action. If you are headed to a developed country, they will have this sort of thing and will be able to establish what your powders are very quickly. And of course they don't search every bag: sniffer dogs, xrays, and the like lead them to the bags that need to be looked at. Your protein powders won't smell like drugs and they might not look like drugs on an xray.

    If you are headed to a country that you think might not have budget for all the whiz-bang tech, or where officers might be corrupt and use the opportunity of your powders to shake you down, then that's different. Should that be the case, you'll have to balance the possibility of trouble at the airport against not getting your protein during the trip.

    It may not be good if they put his powder in those little bags that turn blue - the tests have been know for years to be **incredibly unreliable** yet are treated like DNA in the court room.

    @HannoverFist: Wasn't there a story about how DNA evidence is also unreliable and how there have been cover-ups to that effect...

    Arguably, the biggest problem with DNA evidence is not that it's unreliable but that nearly no-one in most courtrooms, including the judge, understands the prosecutor's fallacy.

    @MadHatter, on a related note, there have been people exonerated and released from prison by DNA evidence being brought to bear when their original conviction (decades earlier) was based on saliva tests or hair matches.

    Conversely, DNA evidence can screw up too.

    @HannoverFist specify which courtroom. The Canadian CBSA clearly say, on Border Security, that when the NIK is positive they have to send it to the lab to confirm exactly what it is. And sometimes the on screen graphics say "it was confirmed to be X with a street value of Y" and sometimes it says "it was confirmed not to be a controlled substance." All you DNA folk, go find a relevant post to comment on, btw.

    Regarding the first paragraph: can you clarify if you know that bags of drugs look like this based on personal or professional experience, or based on movies and TV shows? I would wager that most people (myself included) have never, ever seen such a large amount of drugs outside of TV. If it were that easy, smugglers would put drugs in resealable containers and be done with their day... Maybe they're environmentally conscious and don't want to create waste!

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution

Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM