Residents and visitors should avoid bringing banned substances or large quantities of medicines into Qatar without a prescription, Indian officials have warned after an engineer was detained at the airport and threatened with deportation for carrying undocumented drugs.
Oil and gas engineer Ankit Singhal flew to Qatar for the first time on March 1 to start a new job here.
On arrival, he was stopped by customs officers at Hamad International Airport (HIA), who found around 30 painkiller tablets believed to be Tramadol in his luggage.
The opioid medication, which is similar to codeine, is used to manage severe pain. In many countries, it can only be obtained legally by a doctor’s prescription, but it can also be bought online.
The drug has been linked to abuse, particularly among young people, and authorities here appear to be on the lookout for potential trafficking of large amounts of the substance into the country.
Last August, the General Authority of Customs announced it stopped a traveler crossing Abu Samra border with nearly 3,000 Tramadol pills in his luggage.
Singhal did not have the prescription for the medication and was detained by customs officers and sent to the deportation center, where plans were underway to deport him early this week, said the president of the Indian Cultural Center (ICC), Girish Kumar.
There have also recently been other reports of travelers of different nationalities being detained for carrying medicine without a prescription.
In a circular sent to Indian nationals this week, the ICC advised extra caution when traveling with medication.
The Indian Ambassador was made aware of Singhal’s case and after negotiation with authorities he was released on Saturday, March 5, Kumar said.
Kumar told Doha News that Singhal had managed to get his doctor in India to send a copy of his prescription for the medication, which helped with negotiations to release him.
The cultural center is now warning all residents and visitors to Qatar to be aware of the regulations around traveling with medication.
“For painkillers and antibiotics, especially those with sedatives, everyone should make sure they have a prescription from a registered medical practitioner in their home country.
If possible, they should get this attested by the ministry of external affairs in their country. This is a standard requirement and will help with your easy entry into the country.”
“You should not travel with more than a small amount of any medication. If you have the quantity for six months’ or one year, that could be a problem.”
New to Qatar, Singhal had been unaware of the regulations around his medication and had spent several “uncomfortable” days with the threat of deportation, the official added.
“Qatar has strict rules, like every country, and we want to make sure everyone knows about them, to avoid another case like this.
If you don’t have a prescription you could risk being deported. A lack of knowledge or information could result in problems for the passenger and also for the authorities,” he went on.
Passengers with medication should alert customs officials as they arrive in the state to avoid any misunderstanding, Kumar added.
On the Indian Embassy in Qatar’s website, there is advice for nationals traveling to the country with medicine.
“If you are under medication and if you are carrying certain prescribed medicines, you must have doctor’s prescription in original and the medicines should be carried along with its original packing and literature so that custom authorities can easily identify them,” it states.
Last summer, authorities in Qatar were said to be considering taking a tougher line on those caught selling illegal substances to young people, in a bid to tackle a rise in drug use.
Amr Aly Al Hemeidy, assistant director of the Ministry of Interior’s narcotics department, said that the most dangerous drugs used by addicts in Qatar are cocaine, heroin and morphine.
Other more common drugs that are often misused include psycho-stimulants like tramadol, captagon and Lyrica.
The Gulf is a popular market for Captagon, a powerful stimulant that gives users a burst of energy that helps them stay awake for prolonged periods of time while suppressing their appetite.
Current penalties for drug use and dealing range from jail time to the death penalty, in addition to fines of up to QR500,000, according to Law No. 9 for the year 1987.