Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP
UPDATE: This article has been revised to include information regarding Hurricane Irma.
En español | Thousands of people rescued from rooftops and plucked from rising water during Hurricane Harvey had to leave everything behind. For many, prescription drugs were among the items they abandoned. The same may happen to those fleeing Hurricane Irma.
Missing days of essential medicine can pose a health threat and adds to the sense of panic people feel during such emergencies — especially natural disasters. Fortunately, disaster response teams and medical units have been set up across the ravaged Texas counties. Those teams are helping provide access to prescription refills and vital medical care.
“This is a horrible, devastating time, but people should realize that continuing to take their medicines will help them meet the challenges,” said Barbara Young of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
For example, the more than 10,000 evacuees taking shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston have an on-site medical facility — established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Additional medical stations have opened in Dallas.
Texas state law allows pharmacists to dispense as much as a 30-day supply of a prescription drug during a natural disaster without a doctor’s authorization. American Red Cross volunteers also are authorized to help with refilling prescriptions in an emergency.
Even for people who were able to gather their medicines before evacuating their homes, there’s a concern about drugs that require refrigeration. It’s important to check with medical experts or a pharmacist for advice. Any drugs that have been exposed to flood water or unsafe tap water should be discarded, as they might be contaminated.
Government and charitable organizations have some tips for individuals and their families who require medicine or need places to receive treatments, such as drug infusions and kidney dialysis. Here is a sampling of available resources.
- To find an open pharmacy, go to RxOpen.org, which maps open and closed pharmacies during disasters. The site also has locations of American Red Cross shelters and infusion centers in the affected communities.
- Low-income patients can go to community health centers or clinics where the charity Direct Relief (directrelief.org) provides free prescription drugs and medical supplies. Direct Relief has already pre-positioned medical supplies at 14 locations across Florida.
- For those with a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, medicare.gov recommends contacting the plan to find the nearest network pharmacy that is open. If one is unavailable, the plan can connect evacuees with an out-of-network pharmacy. People might have to pay full price, but may be eligible for a refund. Call your plan for more details and instructions. To find your plan’s phone number, call 1-800-MEDICARE.
- Medicare recipients who need dialysis treatments should contact their End-Stage Renal Disease Network (ESRD) or call 800-MEDICARE to get ESRD Network contact information. Those who have a Medicare Advantage Plan should contact their provider to find out how they can get supplies, transportation to dialysis services and other information about dialysis treatments.
- For people who need chemotherapy or other cancer treatments, the National Cancer Institute (800-4CANCER) can help locate cancer care providers.