Preparing Your Medicine Cabinet for an Emergency: A Checklist

Posted on by CDR Ibad Khan, Pharmacist, Division of Emergency Operations, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response

Closeup view of an eighty year old senior woman's hands as she sorts her prescription medicine.

If you read our blog on a regular basis you can probably recite the mantra “Make a kit. Have a plan. Be informed.” in your sleep. You are probably familiar with the important items you should keep in your emergency kit – water, food, a flashlight, and a battery-powered radio. What you may not think about is personalizing your kit for your unique medical needs or the needs of your family. Particularly, including prescription medications and other medical supplies in your emergency kit and plans.

As a pharmacist whose job is focused on emergency preparedness and response, I want to give you 10 pointers about how to prepare your medications for an emergency so you can decrease the risk of a life-threatening situation.infographic illustrating an emergency kit.

  1. Make a list. Keep a list of all your medications and the dosages in your emergency kit. Make sure you have the phone numbers for your doctors and pharmacies.
  2. Have your card. Keep your health insurance or prescription drug card with you at all times so your pharmacy benefits provider or health insurance plan can help you replace any medication that was lost or damaged in a disaster.
  3. Keep a record. Make copies of your current prescriptions and keep them in your emergency kit and/or go bag. You can also scan and email yourself copies, or save them in the cloud. If you can’t reach your regular doctor or your usual pharmacy is not open, this written proof of your prescriptions make it much easier for another doctor to write you a refill.
  4. Start a stockpile. You may find it difficult to refill our prescriptions during and after a disaster. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about creating an emergency supply of prescription medications, and find out if laws where you live permit pharmacists to dispense emergency prescription refills.
  5. Storage matters. Keep your medications in labeled, child-proof containers in a secure place that does not experience extreme temperature changes or humidity. Don’t forget to also include nonprescription medications you might need, including pain relievers, cold or allergy medications, and antacids.
  6. Rotate the date. Don’t let the medications in your emergency supply kit expire. Check the dates at least twice every year.
  7. Prioritize critical medicines. Certain medications are more important to your health and safety than others. Prioritize your medications, and make sure you plan to have the critical medications available during an emergency.
  8. Communicate a plan. Talk to your doctor about what you should do in case you run out of a medication during an emergency. If you have a child who takes a prescription medication, talk to their daycare provider or school about a plan in case of an emergency.
  9. Plan ahead. Make sure you know the shelf life and optimal storage temperature for your prescriptions, because some medications and supplies cannot be safely stored for long periods of time at room temperature. If you take a medication that needs to be refrigerated or requires electronic equipment plan ahead for temporary storage and administration in an emergency situation.
  10. Check before using. Before using the medication in your emergency kit, check to make sure the look or smell hasn’t changed. If you are unsure about its safety, contact a pharmacist or healthcare provider before using.


Posted on by CDR Ibad Khan, Pharmacist, Division of Emergency Operations, Office of Public Health Preparedness and ResponseTags , , , , , , , ,

5 comments on “Preparing Your Medicine Cabinet for an Emergency: A Checklist”

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    A handy checklist, but how can you stockpile medications that are on a controlled drug schedule?

    Julie – You should consult your physician for your specific situation and the medication in question. Per Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations for controlled substances, prescriptions for schedule II controlled substances cannot be refilled and a new prescription must be issued. Prescriptions for schedules III and IV controlled substances may be refilled up to five times in six months. Prescriptions for schedule V controlled substances may be refilled as authorized by the practitioner.

    Being prepared is something that is often discussed but executed by few. Observing response to disasters on the news the, evidence that most are woefully unprepared is evident. Having the tools necessary in your emergency kit can make or break an emergency situation. Medications can often be overlooked while preparing for emergencies. This checklist address medications and can prevent a potential oversight. Another commenter brought up an interesting topic for discussion. What about controlled substances? I assume the commenter may be referring to pain medicines or anxiolytics. Both of those ailments are treated with controlled substances. Both also effect quality of life as well. According to Koskinen, Aho, & Nyholm (2016) Protracted bodily pain signifies a continuously present and unwelcome guest, which invades the human being and intrudes on and deprives the human being of his or her dignity. A human being’s feelings of hope, wholeness and being at-home with him or herself may be lost. Living with protracted pain is therefore a constant struggle against this unwelcome guest to prevent it from ruling everyday life. Living with the crippling pain during an emergency would add an additional level of stress to an already stressful situation.
    Koskinen, C., Aho, S., & Nyholm, L. (2016). Life with an unwelcome guest – caring in a context of protracted bodily pain. Scandinavian Journal Of Caring Sciences, 30(4), 774-781. doi:10.1111/scs.12304

    Thank you for an informative and well thought out article. I found the blog administrators response to Julie’s comment especially helpful. I’m saving this on my phone for future reference.

    When faced with daunting emergency situations like natural disasters, whether you believe that you’re prepared or not, trust me—you’re not. And when you are in the midst of it all, decision making is somewhat challenging. You cannot be over prepared. Imagine the worst case scenario and plan ahead of time as best you can for that scenario to play out. Unlikely though it may seem, impossible it is not. And when the time comes, the smallest decisions can be life-altering. You do not have to take my advice—as long as you’re aware that not heeding my words could come at a steep price.

    Trust your instincts. Even if that means tuning everything and everyone else out like the news, your spouse, your mother, your neighbors, facebook, the emergency alerts on your phone—all of it! Your Gut Never Lies.
    Plan. Prepare. Pack. If you evacuate, plan on never returning. Even if you’re able to return, that doesn’t mean that doing so is in your best interest.

    Respectfully, I’d like to add that the comments by the most recent commenter, Ezra, serve as a good example of what not to do. True emergency situations are the scariest and most earth shattering situations you will ever face. Then there is the aftermath, which may potentially alter the remainder of your life and will likely take on a life of its own.

    Assumptions and judgments, no matter how well-intended, and I make no assumptions about whether Ezra’s intentions are good, though they likely are, the bottom line is that those sort of comments serve no one. They are unnecessary, irrelevant, and inappropriate. If you plan on holding on to any preconceived notions that you may have about what is needed during an emergency situation if you’ve never been through the experience yourself, even if you’re just trying to be helpful, assuming what may be the “right” thing to do is a matter of opinion, and it’s an unhelpful distraction. Let’s not pretend to know how to help people in an emergency. Because that’s the opposite of helping them. Don’t gloss it over. Emergency situations are not pretty. They’re ugly and they’re devastating. You are fighting for your very survival. I suggest that you unpack that extra baggage beforehand.

    And what good does your comments serve, Bonnie? You spend more time telling about what actions a person should respond to different things then you point your finger at Ezra saying that he is wrong. I believe he has made a good point agreeing to the helpfulness of this posting. I have been in many of the emergency situations that are covered in this post, and it is true that somehow i always wish we had remembered to do that one more thing.
    Hurricanes are my pitfalls, I ran from the most of them, returned to find a loss of so much but survived to run from the next one. That is life! We all face some type off natural disaster, or personal disaster in our life, so we just have to learn how to bend and get up for the next round. Thankful to have survived yet
    another day.

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Page last reviewed: September 11, 2019
Page last updated: September 11, 2019