There are many variables involved in obtaining prescription medications during times of disaster, including the overall state of the emergency, type of medication, federal regulations, insurance authorization, corporate pharmacy policies, transportation issues, electronic access, phone communications and more.

The best way to prepare is to talk (in advance) to your doctor, pharmacy and insurance company about your specific situation. Ask about emergency policies and consider the following:

  • It may be possible to obtain a 30-day emergency supply of medication for your disaster kit. If so, is this covered by your insurance policy?
  • If medications get destroyed or are inaccessible, you may be required to pay out-of-pocket for replacements. Find out if future financial reimbursement is available.
  • Ask your doctor if she can provide a written prescription to have on hand for emergencies in the event you can’t get to your usual pharmacy.

Some medications can be stocked up in advance, although insurance companies won’t necessarily pay for these supplies. This is not an option for highly regulated medications—and many families with special needs require them. Note that in disaster situations, your doctor may be able to send an electronic prescription or even call in an emergency dose.

If you are able to obtain an extended medication supply, regularly check expiration dates and be mindful of storage—if refrigeration is required, have a plan to keep them cold. If drugs get damaged (wet, for instance), discard them.

If you find yourself without essential medications during a disaster, independent pharmacy owner Jason Gruszynski says, “Pharmacies should be your starting point. We are going to take care of you, and can help contact your doctor and insurance company when necessary.” ARC shelters can also help, whether or not you are staying at one.

When activated for a public health emergency, is a resource to locate a nearby, open pharmacy.

Lisa Pawlak is an award-winning contributing writer and Encinitas resident.