Chronic Pain Management, Disaster Emergency Kit, Opiod Medication Handling

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • A new SharePost today entitled Reflecting on the Hatian Disaster, by our ChronicPainConnection site producer, CRegal, asked several very good questions about how prepared we are to make sure our chronic pain needs are met in case we should find ourselves in the midst of a disaster or an emergency situation.  His post got me to thinking, so I'd like to share some tips that may be helpful if you want to make plans “just in case...” 

    I still remember stories in the aftermath of Katrina about people who had to flee their homes quickly and did not take their medications with them.  Many of them did not even know the names of the medications they took, describing them only as “a little red pill” or “a long white pill.”  I thought then about how important it is for those of us with serious health problems to be prepared for unexpected disasters.     

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    Key Emergency Information

    The first and most important thing you need to have for emergencies is also the easiest to prepare – a list of essential information that emergency rescue or medical personnel would need to know in order to treat you.  This list should be kept in your wallet at all times and should include:

    • A list of your medical conditions.

    • A list of all medications you take, noting the name of the medication, the dosage, and how often you take it.  (Ex.: metroprolol, 100 mg, one tablet twice a day)

    • A list of any medications or foods you're allergic to.

    • The name and type of any implanted devices (intrathecal pain pump, neurostimulator, pacemaker, etc.) you may have.

    • Your doctor's name and phone number.

    • The name and phone number of the person you want contacted in an emergency. 

    • Any other health-related information you think would be important in an emergency.

    Another good option, particularly if you have significant health problems, is to sign up for a service that provides your key medical information to emergency personnel.  Probably the best known of these services is MedicAlert.  You wear an easily identifiable tag or bracelet that is engraved with your most essential information and the service's phone number.  They also provide you with a card for your wallet that lists your most important information.

    Medication Supplies

    One of the main things most chronic pain patients need to have with us in the event of a disaster is our medications.  For some reason, it's also one of the things that's easiest to forget if we have to evacuate our homes suddenly. 

    Where do you keep your medications?  Are they all together in a container you could quickly grab if you needed to?  If not, you might want to give some serious though to changing how and where you store your meds.  I keep mine in a small tote bag on the shelf in my bedroom closet (so my young grandchildren can't accidently get hold of them).  As I write this, though, I'm realizing that I need to find a better container that zips or latches.  Although the bag I have would be easy to grab quickly, it would also be easy for the meds to fall out if the bag tipped over. 

  • Don't forget about any other supplies or equipment you may need in order to take your medications properly – syringes for injectable meds, glucose meter and strips for diabetics, etc.  Be sure to store those items with your medications if at all possible.  If some of your medication has to be kept refrigerated, a small insulated bag might make a good storage container. 

    Another question arises regarding medications.  What if you have to evacuate the day before you were due to refill your prescription(s)?  If you really want to be prepared, you might consider stockpiling a few days or a week's worth of medication to keep on hand.  That may take awhile to do since most insurance companies, or pharmacies for that matter, won't let you refill a prescription more than a couple of days before it runs out.  As you accumulate one or two tablets a month, pop them in the freezer so eventually you'll have a reasonable supply on hand for emergencies.  As long as they're frozen, tablets and dry capsules can be kept indefinitely.  For more information on long-term storage of medications, read: Storing Medications Safely

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    One final thought on the subject of medications – you might want to keep a bottle of water with your meds to make sure you have a way to take them. 

    Opioids Require Special Handling

    If you take opioid medications for your chornic pain, the last thing you want is to find yourself with no access to your meds.  You don't want to have to deal with withdrawal on top of your pain in an already stressful situation.  However, because of their classification as controlled substances, opioids require some special handling. 

    First of all, they should not be stored with all of your other medications – unless you keep all of your medications locked up and in a secure place where no one but you has access to them.  And opioids should always be kept in the original prescription container they came in.  In some states you can be arrested for carrying opioids that are not in their original prescriptions bottles because it is assumed that you have them illegally. 

    Trying to ensure that you always have a few days or a week's worth of opioid medication on hand for emergency situations is a particular challenge.  Since you're not allowed to refill them early, accumulating even a few extra doses is difficult.  And if you have a pain management treatment agreement, you can't even cut back for a day or two in order to save a few for emergencies because if the doctor  calls you in for a drug test and you don't have enough in your system, he'll think you're selling them and may dismiss you. 

    I just don't know of a simple answer to this problem.  The only thing I can suggest you might try is to explain to your doctor that the Hatian earthquake has made you think about preparing for possible disasters and ask for a recommendation on how to make sure you always have enough of your medication on hand for such an emergency.  The only problem with that is, there's a chance your doctor may become suspicious of you, thinking you're just looking for a way to get more medication.  Unfortunately, with opioids that is always a very real possibility. 

  • Other Preparations

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    Depending on exactly how ready you want to be, there are a number of other preparedness options, such as a first aid kit, a change of clothes, freeze-dried meals, flashlight, batteries, etc.  FEMA's Web site provides a list of the things you need for an emergency supply kit.  The National Terror Alert Response Center's site has very reasonable prices for different types of supplies and kits in several different sizes.

    An Internet search for “emergency preparedness” will turn up numerous sites where you can get good basic survival information.  My concern here is to help you make sure your health and pain needs are met in an emergency.  If you have any additional thoughts or ideas about preparing for emergency situations, please click “Comment” below and share them with us.


Published On: January 20, 2010