How to Care for Medication During a Natural Disaster

For the past week, Hurricane Harvey has been on the minds of most Americans, especially those in southeast Texas.

There have been many destructive hurricanes in the past, notably Hurricane Katrina that hit the southeast United States, and Harvey has been no different. From flooded streets and fragmented homes to displaced families and pets, it has destroyed the lives of many. However, through their grief, some people have already started to reconstruct their damaged lives. That being said, it is important to know what can remain intact and be used during or after a natural disaster and what cannot, including your medical drugs.

According to an article from the Huffington Post, 70% of people take some form of prescription drug. Plus, millions of people frequently use over-the-counter medications on a regular basis. What happens to these during a fire or a flood? Can they still be effective?

The FDA has the answer. They have created a guide for drugs that may have been affected by a natural disaster. Here are some important points from their guide.   

Drugs Exposed to Excessive Heat, Such as Fire

The effectiveness of drugs can be destroyed by high temperatures from a fire. If you think your medicines have been exposed to excessive heat, consider replacing them.  

Drugs Exposed to Unsafe Water

Drugs exposed to flood or unsafe municipal water may become contaminated. This contamination may lead to serious health effects.

We recommend that drugs–even those in their original containers with screw-top caps, snap lids, or droppers –should be discarded if they came into contact with flood or contaminated water. In addition, medicines placed in other storage containers should be discarded if the medicines came in contact with flood or contaminated water.

Lifesaving Drugs Exposed to Heat or Unsafe Water

A drug may be needed to treat a life-threatening condition, but a replacement may not be readily available. Drugs exposed to fire or unsafe water should be replaced as soon as possible. If the drug looks unchanged - for example, pills in a wet container appear dry - the drugs can be used until a replacement is available. If the pills are wet, then they are contaminated and need to be discarded.

Drugs that Need to Be Reconstituted (Made Into a Liquid)

Drugs that have to be reconstituted (made into a liquid using water) should be mixed only with purified or bottled water. Liquids other than purified or bottled water should not be used to reconstitute these products.

Drugs that Need Refrigeration

Some drugs require refrigeration (for example, insulin and certain liquid antibiotics). If electrical power has been off for a long time, the drug should be discarded and replaced. However, if the drug is absolutely necessary to sustain life (for example, insulin), it may be used until a new supply is available.

Because temperature-sensitive drugs lose potency if not refrigerated, they should be replaced with a new supply as soon as possible. For example, insulin that is not refrigerated is effective for a shorter period of time than the labeled expiration date.

While only parts of the country haven’t been impacted by the howling winds and rains of Hurricane Harvey, our thoughts are with everyone in the region. When it comes to medication during, and after, a natural disaster, it’s best to error on the side of caution. If not, an illness could add additional stress to an already scary situation.

If you’d like to offer your support to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey, visit to donate to the American Red Cross and their relief efforts.