Tax Deductible Nonprescription Drugs or Supplements

What legally "is and isn't" tax-deductible can often be confusing, especially when dealing with medical expenses for items that can be bought over-the-counter or without a prescription. It's important to know the IRS rules pertaining to medical expenses—and to check each year for changes or updates to the rules.

Woman doing her taxes at home

What Are Medical Expenses?

According to IRS Publication 502, medical expenses are the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body. These expenses include payments for legal medical services rendered by physicians, surgeons, dentists, and other medical practitioners. They include the costs of equipment, supplies, and diagnostic devices needed for these purposes. Medical care expenses must be primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental defect or illness. They don't include expenses that are merely beneficial to general health, such as vitamins or a vacation. Medical expenses include the premiums you pay for insurance that covers the expenses of medical care and the amounts you pay for transportation to get medical care. Medical expenses also include amounts paid for qualified long-term care services and limited amounts paid for any qualified long-term care insurance contract.

Are Medicines Deductible?

You can include in medical expenses amounts you pay for prescribed medicines and drugs. A prescribed drug is one that requires a prescription by a doctor for its use by an individual. You can also include amounts you pay for insulin. Except for insulin, you can't include in medical expenses amounts you pay for a drug that isn't prescribed.

Nonprescription Equipment & Supplies

Limitations do not apply to other nonprescription items such as bandages, crutches, thermometers, or blood sugar test kits. If otherwise qualifying as related to medical care, such items as these are deductible.

Drugs From Other Countries

In general, you can't include in your medical expenses the cost of a prescribed drug brought in (or ordered shipped) from another country. You can only include the cost of a drug that was imported legally. For example, you can include the cost of a prescribed drug the Food and Drug Administration announces can be legally imported by individuals. You can include the cost of a prescribed drug you purchase and consume in another country if the drug is legal in both the other country and the United States.

Nutritional Supplements

You can't include in medical expenses the cost of nutritional supplements, vitamins, herbal supplements, or natural medicines unless they are recommended by a medical practitioner as treatment for a specific medical condition diagnosed by a physician. Otherwise, these items are taken to maintain your ordinary good health and aren't for medical care.

Personal Use Items

You can't include in medical expenses the cost of an item ordinarily used for personal, living, or family purposes unless it is used primarily to prevent or alleviate a physical or mental defect or illness. For example, the cost of a toothbrush and toothpaste is a nondeductible personal expense. In order to accommodate an individual with a physical defect, you may have to purchase an item ordinarily used as a personal, living, or family item in a special form. You can include the excess of the cost of the item in a special form over the cost of the item in normal form as a medical expense.

Stop Smoking Programs

You can include in medical expenses amounts you pay for a program to stop smoking. However, you can't include in medical expenses amounts you pay for drugs that don't require a prescription, such as nicotine gum or patches, that are designed to help stop smoking.

Excerpted from IRS Publication 502. See the publication for a complete list of medical expenses which may and may not be deducted.

This article is not a substitute for professional accounting services. Please consult a competent tax professional for answers to your specific questions.

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  1. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service. Publication 502: medical and dental expenses. Updated January 21, 2020.