Hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, tornadoes, blizzards and other natural disasters can happen at any time. Having an emergency plan helps pharmacists, pharmacies, and patients protect themselves and their medications, during a disaster event and in the aftermath.
Pre-planning is especially important for patients on a prescription drug regimen, as nonadherence may be life-threatening for certain conditions. According to the FDA, pharmacists play an important role in planning for emergencies like those that can be created by dangerous storm situations, like Hurricane Florence could create in the Carolinas this week. Pharmacists must ensure their patients are informed about how to keep themselves and their medications safe.
“An emergency plan is especially important for those with health concerns, particularly if the power goes out,” said pharmacist Henry Yu, in a Drug Info Rounds video from the FDA. “Taking precautions for storing medications and supplies is key to being prepared.”
According to the FDA, pharmacists should advise patients to:
Following a natural disaster, a loss of power or flooding may affect medications. Prescription drugs can be altered after exposure to extreme temperatures that can occur with power loss, and prescription drugs may be contaminated by flood water or broken pipes.
Pharmacists can assist patients in examining medications for damage and discard the treatment if necessary. For medications that must be reconstituted, pharmacists should advise patients to only use bottled water if clean water is otherwise unavailable. In addition, if the power has been out for an extended amount of time, refrigerated products should be discarded.
For patients on life-sustaining drugs, such as insulin, an unrefrigerated drug be may used until new doses are available. Since temperature-sensitive drugs may lose potency if unrefrigerated, they should be replaced immediately, FDA officials recommend.
In circumstances where the containers of life-saving medications have been exposed to floodwater and other treatments are not available, pharmacists can determine if the drug should be used, as long as the contents appear to be unaffected, according to the FDA. However, the agency has warned that once replacement drugs are available, potentially contaminated drugs should be disposed of and patients should begin treatment with non-contaminated drugs.