When Preparedness Saves Lives: Prescription Medications And Natural Disasters
September was National Emergency Preparedness Month. While this health observance occurs every year, recent events such as the fires that have rocked Northern California in 2015 and last year’s Napa earthquake give this observance special significance for a lot of communities.
While there are lots of things households should be doing to prepare for disasters, for those taking prescription medications, especially life-saving prescription medications, being prepared now may save your life later. Here are some tips for things you can do now to ensure you’ll have the medications you need during an emergency:
• Refill your medications as early as your prescription allows, even if you still have medications left to take. That way, if there is a disaster, you’ll be sure to have at least three days’ worth of medications and supplies with you (or more if needed).
• Always bring your prescription medications with you in case of evacuation. Store your medications together in an easy to access location. If possible, keep them in a single container that’s easy for you or a loved one to grab in case you have to evacuate in a hurry. If your medications require refrigeration, keep a small cooler and frozen gel pack handy as well.
• Make a list of the medications you’re taking and keep them in your wallet along with your prescription ID card and insurance information.
• If you are a caretaker for an older adult, or a parent of a young child taking prescription medication, make sure that all care facilities (such as senior care or daycare) have a list of needed medications and instructions should they have to administer medications in an emergency.
What about when disaster strikes?
How can you know if your prescription medications are safe to continue taking after a flood or fire has occurred? Disasters often cause widespread, long-lasting power outages. What if your medications require refrigeration? The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers the following guidelines:
Drugs Exposed to Excessive Heat, such as Fire
The effectiveness of drugs can be destroyed by high temperatures associated with fires. You should consider replacing your medications if there’s a possibility that your medication was exposed to excessive heat, such as fires.
Lifesaving Drugs Exposed to Heat
In a disaster, it is especially important to assure the effectiveness of lifesaving drugs, and therefore these should be replaced as soon as possible. However, if the lifesaving medication in its container looks normal to you, the medication can be used until a replacement is available.
Drugs Exposed to Unsafe Water
Drugs (pills, oral liquids, drugs for injection, inhalers, skin medications) that are exposed to flood or unsafe municipal water may become contaminated. This contamination may lead to diseases that can cause serious health effects.
We recommend that drug products–even those in their original containers–should be discarded if they have come into contact with flood or contaminated water. In the ideal setting, capsules, tablets, and liquids in drug containers with screw-top caps, snap lids, or droppers, should be discarded if they are contaminated. In addition, medications that have been placed in any alternative storage containers should be discarded if they have come in contact with flood or contaminated water.
Lifesaving Drugs Exposed To Water
In many situations, these drugs may be lifesaving and replacements may not be readily available. For these lifesaving drugs, if the container is contaminated but the contents appear unaffected–if the pills are dry–the pills may be used until a replacement can be obtained. However, if a pill is wet, it is contaminated and should be discarded.
For children’s drugs that have to be made into a liquid using water (reconstituted), the drug should only be reconstituted with purified or bottled water. Liquids other than water should not be used to reconstitute these products.
Drugs that Need Refrigeration
Some drugs require refrigeration (for example, insulin, somatropin, and drugs that have been reconstituted). If electrical power has been off for a long time, the drug should be discarded. However, if the drug is absolutely necessary to sustain life (insulin, for example), it may be used until a new supply is available.
Because temperature sensitive drugs lose potency if not refrigerated, they should be replaced with a new supply as soon as possible. For example, insulin that is not refrigerated has a shorter shelf life than the labeled expiration date. (Please see Information Regarding Insulin Storage for more details.)
If a contaminated product is considered medically necessary and would be difficult to replace quickly, you should contact a healthcare provider (for example, Red Cross, poison control, health departments, etc.) for guidance.
If you are concerned about the efficacy or safety of a particular product, contact your pharmacist, healthcare provider or the manufacturer’s customer service department.
Disasters usually strike without warning and can have serious consequences for those who rely on prescription medication. By preparing now, and keeping your preparations up to date over time, you may just save your own life or the life of a loved one. If you have questions about your medications or need help filling a prescription, please visit any Owens Healtcare Location and ask to speak with one of our helpful pharmacists.