(Xavier Lockley/U.S. Air Force)

HEIDELBERG, Germany - Prescription medications addressed to military post office boxes in Germany soon will be flagged by U.S. postal clerks stateside and not sent.

William Kiser, the top postal officer for U.S. forces in Europe, said that U.S. post offices would stop sending the medications and a variety of other items the German government has banned or restricted from import. The target date is Jan. 1, Kiser said. Postal clerks will match restriction codes for the items with ZIP codes.

Late last year, German authorities began confiscating mailed medications, U.S. officials said, enforcing a law the Germans say has been on the books for years.

U.S. authorities only learned recently, after packages were confiscated, that the mailed medications they thought were legal - covered under the status of forces agreement and viewed as domestic mail - were not.

The longtime practice had been encouraged by Tricare, the military health insurer, as both less expensive and more convenient, especially as more military health centers closed along with their garrisons.

The German Health Ministry said mailing medications from the U.S. to military post office boxes - or any individuals - violates the law, just as it's illegal for residents in Germany to receive items including meat products, caviar, counterfeit trademarked items, such as fake brandname handbags, vitamins and body-building supplements.

The German government declined to make an exception, saying that prescription medications from the U.S. could be sent only to military authorities, such as medical commands and their hospitals and pharmacies.

As a result of the German ruling and new restrictions, military pharmacies will be beefing up their formularies to carry most drugs that beneficiaries had been getting in the mail, said Army Col. Richard Jordan, executive director of Tricare's Eurasia-Africa office in Sembach.

"We've been asking ERMC (European Regional Medical Command), who are these people and what are their medications?" Jordan said.

People including teachers and some Defense Department civilians covered by private insurance who were receiving meds by mail would most likely have to see a German doctor and get prescriptions filled at German pharmacies.

There wasn't a problem until late last year, Kiser said. "They (German customs) started taking packages out of our APOs that had medications, and we started wondering why," Kiser said.

Some medications had been returned to sender, some held, then returned to the recipient with a warning, and one, a medication for narcolepsy banned entirely in Germany, was destroyed.

Kiser said it appeared that German customs officials had stepped up their crack down, inspecting packages in military community mailrooms across Germany.

"Ramstein and Stuttgart are hit constantly," Kiser said. "They're walking around looking at boxes, saying, 'We want that box, we want that box.' Customs officials here have taken boxes just because they say ‘Snacks' because they say it might be beef jerky."

A spokeswoman for the German Customs Administration, the Hauptzollamt, in Saarbrücken denied that there was increased inspection of U.S. packages.

"Mail to Americans is not more or (more) often checked than any other mail coming to Germany," said Diana Weis.

No other European country with American troops has proscriptions about mail-order medications, Kiser said.

Kiser said it turned out Germany had banned mail-order medications from the U.S. in 2006, but said that U.S. authorities did not believe it applied to mail received at APO boxes.

But Dr. Ralf Halfmann of the German Health Ministry said the prohibition was much older than that, and designed to ensure that medications enter Germany in a controlled fashion, received by proper authorities.

"It's a matter of responsibility," Halfmann said. "You have been lucky, but the law has not changed."

Stars and Stripes' Marcus Kloeckner contributed to this story.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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