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Feature Article In the Event of an Emergency, Are Your Medications Ready?

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If you have a store of water in your pantry, a first aid kit and a flashlight, you have a good start on creating an emergency kit in case of a disaster. But whether you’re preparing for an ice storm or an earthquake, one thing you shouldn’t put off is making a plan for your medications.

How to Manage Your Stockpile

Kevin Russell, RPh, who manages the outpatient pharmacies at Samaritan Health Services, recommends having at least two week’s supply of medications on hand at all times.

“During a disaster, having a small supply of your medication on hand can get you through until it’s possible to get to a pharmacy,” said Russell. “Get your refills early a few times to slowly build up your reserves in case of an emergency or, most insurances allow a onetime early refill if asked.”

Russell is a fan of keeping all medications together and using them as you normally would instead of packing them separately in an emergency bag. Just know that you’ll need to grab your medications if you have to evacuate.

“As medication regimens become more complex, there is a greater potential for people to not have certain medications or to be taking the wrong ones or wrong dose if they pre-pack an emergency bag,” said Russell. “It’s safer for your health to keep all your current medications in one place.”

When You Have to Leave Home

If there is a declared emergency, the law allows pharmacies to dispense a small supply of most drugs except narcotics as long as you have proof of what you’re taking. This can be especially helpful if you don’t have access to your regular pharmacy.

Russell’s best tip: Get a printout from the pharmacy of all your prescriptions any time your medications or dosages change. You can keep that list in your emergency kit and show it at any pharmacy if you have been evacuated and run out of medication.

Serious Conditions that Need a Plan

People with certain conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, and asthma or COPD, should be especially diligent about planning ahead for their medications.

“If you have a lung condition, it can have a flare up during a natural disaster regardless of what it is,” said Russell. “Earthquakes have dust, storms have mold.”

Essential Planning Tips

To help organize your medication planning in case of an emergency, Russell recommends these tips:

  • Have a copy of your current prescriptions and insurance card in your emergency kit. You can get a printout of your medications from the pharmacy, or keep your own list if your medications are simple and don’t change often.
  • Ask to fill your prescriptions early to build up your reserves. If your medication does not allow for early refills, you may need to discuss your emergency plan with your doctor and insurance provider.
  • Go over your mediations with your doctor or pharmacist at your next visit and rate them from least essential to life essential. Least essential doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them if you can, but it can help prioritize your needs in an emergency.
  • Get all your prescriptions at one pharmacy. This will help you (and the pharmacy) keep track of what you’re taking. Ask the pharmacy how they will share information with other pharmacies in case of an emergency.
  • Your emergency kit should also include first aid supplies including an antibiotic ointment; an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or aspirin; Benadryl; and an anti-diarrheal. Diarrhea can cause dehydration, which is especially dangerous if there is limited medical care.
  • If a disaster does occur, make sure your mediations are protected from heat, light and moisture. If your power is out and you have medication that needs refrigeration, your refrigerator will stay cool enough for 12 to 24 hours. After that, use freezer packs and a small cooler. If necessary you can also seal the medication in a watertight bag and place in your toilet tank, which is often 15 to 20 degrees cooler than the air temperature.

“If there is a disaster event and you take life-essential medications, it’s always better to be prepared,” said Russell. “A little planning can make a big difference.”

Learn more about emergency preparedness in your community.

Kevin Russell is the outpatient pharmacy operations manager at Samaritan Health Services and president of the Oregon State Pharmacy Association. He serves on the Oregon Pharmacy Emergency Preparedness Committee, the Pharmacy Benefit Manager Workgroup and the House Bill 3276 Taskforce to improve financing and delivery of care in public health emergencies.