While hurricanes, blizzards, and floods cause problems for everyone in their paths, those that rely on medications to stay healthy have special concerns. The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) at the FDA has developed some guidelines patients can use to determine when a drug is safe to take, and when it should be discarded.
These are general guidelines. Your pharmacist, healthcare provider, or the manufacturer's customer service department can provide specific instructions about what to do with a particular medication.
Drugs exposed to excessive heat
Excessive heat can destroy a drug's effectiveness, so most medications exposed to the high temperatures associated with fires should be discarded. However, if the medication is a lifesaving drug, and both the medication and its container look normal, it is safe to take. Since its effectiveness, may be diminished, a replacement should be obtained as soon as possible.
Drugs exposed to unsafe water
During a natural disaster, municipal water supplies may be contaminated. Drugs that need to be mixed with water and reconstituted should be prepared with bottled water only. Other drugs, such as pills, oral liquids, drugs for injection, inhalers, skin medications, that have come in contact with flood or contaminated municipal water, should be discarded to avoid serious health effects.
For lifesaving drugs, as long as the pills themselves are dry, the patient should take the drug until a replacement can be found. If the pill itself has come in contact with the water, the drug - even if it is a lifesaving drug - should be discarded.
Drugs that need refrigeration
If electrical power has been off for a long time, drugs that are temperature sensitive, and need refrigeration, may lose their effectiveness, and should be discarded. However, if there is no other replacement available, and the drug is one that is needed to sustain life, like insulin, it can be used until a replacement can be found.