Michael Rhodes, MD, Assistant Medical Director for the South Region of Intermountain Healthcare, understands what it takes to be medically prepared for any emergency situation. A long-time proponent of emergency preparedness, he’s also the father of children with diabetes and asthma so he’s particularly aware of the need to store prescription medications for use during an emergency.
How much to store
Dr. Rhodes recommends having a minimum of three day supply of medicines in a disaster kit, and he believes a 30-day supply is even better.
“The victims of the recent Alberta fire were away from their homes for weeks,” says Dr. Rhodes. “If you’re evacuated, it takes time to settle in a new place and establish a relationship with another doctor. The doctor will want to verify your medical history before giving you a prescription, especially if you’re being treated for chronic medical problems. It’s smart to have more than you think you’ll need on hand.”
The first step, though, is a conversation with your doctor about your emergency preparation efforts.
“Ask your doctor for an additional prescription, explain what you’re doing and tell your doctor the meds will be going into storage,” says Dr. Rhodes. “Since many insurance companies will only cover a 30-day supply you may need to pay out of pocket. If your medication is very expensive, ask if there’s a generic substitute you could use in an emergency.”
His other tips for storing medication include:
- Ask your doctor for pill or tablet medications because they will last longer than a liquid form. Then, vacuum seal the pills and store them in a cool, dry place to preserve effectiveness as long as possible. Dr. Rhodes says pills can last 1 to 2 years beyond the expiration date in these conditions.
- Have a mortar and pestle in your emergency kit if you are on any liquid medications. Liquids may crystallize in storage, and the mortar and pestle will allow you to break up the crystals and reconstitute the medicine.
- Label all medications clearly so if you are incapacitated and unable to take the medicine, someone else can dispense it to you. That means a label stating who the medication is for, what time of day you take it, and any special instructions.
- Preserve refrigerated medications (like insulin), in a Ziploc baggie in your toilet tank—NOT the bowl). If the power goes out, the fridge will stay cold for 12-24 hours. After that, you can keep the medications cool in the tank of the toilet, which is 15-20 degrees cooler than the ambient temperature.
- Talk to your doctor about a prescription for an epi-pen if anyone in your family has severe allergies to bees, peanuts etc. The pen will last for a year if stored in a cool, dry location.
- Remember to update your supply every 1 to 2 years. Even in ideal conditions the medications won’t last forever.