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Managing your medicines in an emergency

4 February 2020

In a bushfire, flood or other natural disaster you might need emergency access to an important medicine like insulin or salbutamol.

Plan to take your medicines in an emergency, but never put yourself in harm's way to get them.

In emergency situations, thinking of everything is near impossible. This is why you should include medicines in your emergency survival plan. Here are some points to consider when making your plan as well as tips on how to get access to the medicines you need if you have to evacuate without them.

Include medicines in your survival kit

Include your medicines, prescriptions and health cards in your emergency survival kit. You should also include contact information for your prescribing GP.

Get emergency medicine at a pharmacy

Be aware that some medicines should not be stopped abruptly. If you've had to leave your medicines behind, the best place to access a replacement is often a pharmacy.

If you take a prescription medicine but don't have your prescription with you, the pharmacy may be able to call your GP for a verbal prescription. Your GP can also organise to provide a prescription early. Having your GP's information handy is helpful in these situations.

If your GP can't be contacted, a pharmacy can issue a 3-day emergency supply of some prescription medicines. This does not include controlled substances such as benzodiazepines and opioids. Be aware that you may have to pay the full cost of an emergency supply.

Commonwealth, state and territory health bodies will work together to reduce the impact on you as much as possible. For example, arrangements were made in January 2020 to make sure people in NSW bushfire areas could get their usual amounts of medicines as an emergency supply if their prescribing GP could not be contacted. Check the Department of Health website or your state or territory health department website to find out about these arrangements.

If you are unable to get to a pharmacy, you can get medicines at a hospital or evacuation centre, but they may not have your particular medicine or have limited supplies. Your State Emergency Service may also be able to help.

Keep refrigerated medicines cold

Some medicines must be kept cold, which may be challenging in an emergency where you might not have access to a fridge.

Instant ice packs or water-activated cold bags can keep medicines cold if there's a power outage or if you have to travel with the medicines.

Avoid putting a medicine directly on an ice pack or ice, as this can freeze the medicine. Some medicines are ineffective or harmful if frozen.

Consult the medicine label for storage instructions, and talk to your GP or pharmacist if you are unsure.

Replace damaged medicines

If the medicine is damaged, don't use it. Replace it at a pharmacy. You can also ask your pharmacist to safely dispose of a medicine.

We monitor medicine shortages

The TGA monitors the Australia-wide stock levels of vital medicines through mandatory reporting of shortages by pharmaceutical companies. If there is a nation-wide shortage of an important medicine, we can take regulatory action such as approving supply of an alternative product. We may also grant permission for pharmacies to advertise that they stock a prescription medicine to make sure you can be notified of availability. Of course, the TGA cannot prevent temporary localised shortages if transport links to local pharmacies are disrupted during a disaster. Should this occur, you should speak to your pharmacist regarding the availability of other brands for the same medicine. Otherwise, your pharmacist may have to refer you to your GP to obtain a prescription for another medicine.

Stay informed during an emergency

Important updates about medicines in emergencies will be published by the Department of Health or your state or territory government.

Throughout an emergency, we will also post updates on actions the TGA takes on our website and our social media.

In an emergency, state and territory governments may give pharmacies special authorities, such as the authority to supply some medicines without prescription. Don't rely on this. Instead, make sure you have contact information for your GP.

For more information, consult these pages: