Cough Syrup: Not an Illegal Substance

The Murthy Law Firm successfully represented a foreign national who was found to be inadmissible to the United States based upon cough syrup he was carrying that was misidentified as an illegal substance. Our firm became involved in this case after the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) refused to allow the individual to enter the U.S. The Murthy Law Firm’s advocacy ultimately led to a reversal of the finding of inadmissibility, and the H1B worker was able to return safely to his family and employment.

Cough Syrup Misidentified at Port of Entry

The problem in this case started when the H1B worker tried to return to the United States after a short trip abroad. He was suffering from a cold, so he brought some cough medicine manufactured in his home country. The CBP officers discovered the foreign-manufactured medicine in his luggage. A field test indicated that the cough syrup contained traces of a controlled substance. The H1B worker steadfastly insisted that he was not carrying any illegal substances. Despite his assertions, the CBP found him inadmissible and sent him back to his home country.

Inadmissibility Findings for Controlled Substance

With few exceptions, a finding of inadmissibility for carrying a controlled substance results in the foreign national being permanently barred from the United States. More details on such inadmissibility findings are available in the MurthyDotCom NewsBrief, Serious Immigration Consequences for Marijuana, Despite State Law Changes (17.Nov.2014).

Laboratory Testing Reveals the Truth

The inadmissibility finding was based on a field test of the substance. Field tests, however, are prone to indicating false-positive results. The CBP officer then sent the confiscated cough syrup for testing by a licensed laboratory, which tends to provide far more reliable results. The lab found that the results of the field test were incorrect – the cough syrup did not contain any illegal substances.

Murthy Persuades CBP to Reverse Original Finding

By the time the lab results were available, our client was already back in his home country, separated from his wife and family. Further, the inadmissibility finding remained, even though the CBP was now aware that the cough syrup contained no illegal drugs. The Murthy Law Firm established and maintained contact with the CBP officers involved in the case. We obtained a copy of the laboratory test results vindicating our client. Based on this evidence, and our persistent advocacy on behalf of our client, we were able to persuade the CBP to reverse this unjust inadmissibility finding. The CBP provided confirmation in writing that the inadmissibility ‘hit’ had been removed, allowing our client to return to his family and his job in the United States.


Although our client was not carrying any prohibited substances, this case is still a reminder to take precautions when traveling internationally. One should not bring along medicine from home without following the proper procedures required by CBP. One should pack or check his/her own luggage and make sure all bottles and containers are properly labeled and declared, if required. An innocent oversight has the potential of resulting in severe, possibly even irreparable consequences.

The Murthy Law Firm never reveals details of any case handled by our firm, nor the identity of any client, without first obtaining his/her express consent. We appreciate the generosity of our client in allowing us to use this case as an example to our readers. Please note that all cases are different. Even with cases that appear to be similar, past success does not guarantee a favorable result.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.