If you’ve been following our series on personal preparedness, you may have noted a common theme. The resources, services and protections we count on daily – and perhaps take for granted – may not be available following a disaster. Personal preparedness is all about developing your own plans, tool kits and emergency supplies to fill the gap until normal conditions return. This theme continues with our September newsletter, which offers advice on gathering a supply of important medications and making plans for when your pharmacy may not be available.

Your task: Gather, store and record a personal medication kit.

Create Your Personal Medication Kit

For each of the suggestions below, check with your doctor about which choices would be safest for you and others in your household.

  • A one-week supply of any prescription medications. Always keep all prescription drugs in the original containers.
  • Non-prescription pain reliever (aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen and acetaminophen).
  • Non-prescription anti-diarrhea product.
  • Non-prescription antacid product for stomach upset.
  • Non-prescription product(s) for coughs, colds, allergy relief.
  • Non-prescription laxative product.
  • Non-prescription multivitamin product.
  • A tube of antibiotic cream or ointment (Optional: petroleum jelly/white petrolatum, zinc oxide ointment, non-prescription hydrocortisone cream, and/or a non- prescription antifungal cream).
  • Sunscreen, lip balm with sunscreen.
  • Extra eyeglasses, contact lenses and contact lens solution.
  • Extra batteries for any devices used (hearing aids, insulin pumps, special monitors, blood glucose meters, etc.).
  • Non-prescription sterile saline solution without any additives. (Often found with eye products, is available in spray cans/devices, small bottles, etc. Can be used for cleansing minor wounds if fresh or clean water is not immediately available.)
  • Germicidal hand wipes and/or waterless, alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • For individuals with diabetes or who take diabetes medication: chewable glucose tablets and/or instant glucose gel. In addition, a supply of lancets, meter check solution, and blood glucose test strips should be kept in the emergency medical supply. Those who inject insulin should include extra syringes.

Storing Your Personal Medication Kit

In order to assure that all drugs and products remain pure, potent, and stable, it is important to properly store the supply and to assure that no medication or product exceeds its labeled expiration date:

  • Medications and supplies should be placed in a plastic bin or container with an airtight lid for protection from water damage, contamination, rodents, and insects. For additional protection, each item can be placed in a re-sealable plastic bag.
  • The bin or container with these supplies should be protected from light and stored in a cool, dry location.
  • It is often recommended that medications which can be stored at room temperature be routinely kept at temperatures ranging from 59-77 degrees F. While some non-refrigerated drugs can be stored at temperatures up to 86 degrees F., not all drugs will retain optimum potency if routinely exposed to higher temperatures. Minimizing significant variations in temperature and humidity, and routinely storing non-refrigerated medications at temperatures ranging from 59 to 77 degrees F. will help to assure the stability and potency of the medications up to their expiration dates.
  • Some medications which are stored under refrigeration will retain stability out of the refrigerator for specific periods of time. (For example, vials of insulin usually maintain stability and potency for 21-28 days out of the refrigerator, but some pre-filled insulin pens and cartridges may only be stable for 7 days out of the refrigerator.) It is important for those who routinely use medications recommended for refrigerator storage to check with a pharmacist for information on how long each specific medication can safely be kept out of a refrigerator.
  • Medications stored in an emergency kit should be routinely checked for expiration dates. When the expiration date has been reached, the medication should be taken out and replaced. It is recommended to check all medications and supplies in an emergency kit once each month to look for and replace anything that has reached its expiration date. Alternatively, a label or sticker can be placed on the outside of the kit that has the name and expiration date of the item that will expire the soonest. When that date is reached, it is then easier to replace the specific item. After the item is replaced, the process of determining what the next soonest expiration date will be is repeated and a new expiration date label can be placed on the outside of the kit.

Records and Copies to Place in the Emergency Medication Kit

Being able to provide medical history, insurance, and prescription information to emergency responders, hospitals, pharmacies, shelters, or mobile response centers can help individuals to receive more prompt and individualized care. Consider placing the following items in a re-sealable plastic bag and adding it to your emergency medication kit:

  • Photocopies of all current medication prescriptions. Prescription photocopies can be obtained from your pharmacy or doctor. During an emergency, these photocopies would provide critical information that would quickly assist mobile response centers and/or other pharmacies in providing additional prescription refills and supplies.
  • Photocopies of driver’s license and medical, dental, vision, and/or pharmacy insurance ID cards
  • Business card from each of your doctor’s offices that has the doctor’s name, office address, telephone number and fax number.
  • A summary of any health problems or medical conditions. Make certain that this summary is legible or printed and include information that an emergency response provider would need to know to help in your care. Don’t forget to indicate whether you wear glasses or contact lenses, dentures, a medical alert tag (include what the alert is), prosthetic devices, etc.)
  • A list of any support devices that you use (pumps, meters, monitoring devices, pacemakers, etc.) including the make, model/style, and serial number.
  • A non-password protected flash/thumb drive that has scanned copies of all of these documents can also be placed in the emergency supply in addition to the paper copies.

The Safest Ways to Maintain a 7-Day Emergency Supply of Prescription Medication

Most insurance companies in the United States will not cover the cost of providing an emergency supply of prescription medication for storing in an emergency kit, but there are alternatives that can be considered. Here are the safest, legal ways to obtain and keep a 7-day emergency supply of prescription medication:

  1. Ask your doctor to write a prescription for a 7-day supply of any medication you take on a regular basis. You would likely have to pay for the full cost of this medication, but the cost will be far less than a 30 or 90-day supply. Place this medication (in the original prescription vial with the full label) in the emergency kit. A month before the medication reaches its labeled expiration date, call the pharmacy and ask for the staff to call the prescribing doctor for an emergency supply refill. Replace the expired medication with the new 7-day supply when it is available.
  2. Many insurance plans allow for refilling a 30-day supply as early as 21 to 23 days after the last supply was dispensed. Ask your pharmacy what the earliest date is that your prescription can be filled, and refill the medication approximately one week early. Place the last month’s prescription (with 7 to 9 days-worth of medication remaining) in the emergency kit. (As always, store the medication in the original prescription vial with the original label.) This will then become the emergency supply. This supply can be kept in the kit until one-month before it reaches its expiration date, at which time the process would be repeated.
  3. Ask your doctor if he or she can provide medication samples for a 7-day supply. Be aware that not all doctors keep or provide samples to their patients and those that do will not have a supply of every prescribed medication. A factor that makes this option less safe for patients is that sample medications do not come labeled with the patient name or individualized directions for use. This can increase the chances of dosing errors as well as emergency response personnel having difficulty in knowing who the medication in the kit is intended for.

Another concern with respect to receiving and keeping drug samples is that sample medications tend to have very short expiration date periods. Many samples are labeled and dated to expire in only 3-12 months. This means that individuals who choose to obtain samples for their emergency kits must monitor expiration dates carefully and replace the medication frequently.