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During a Hurricane Evacuation, Don’t Forget About Your Health

When a disaster forces people to evacuate, they often forget to take medicines and supplies needed to manage chronic conditions, which can quickly spiral into medical crisis.

Evacuees walk the halls of a hurricane shelter in Panama City, Florida, in October, 2018, during Hurricane Michael. When people evacuate, they often forget medicines needed to manage chronic conditions, which can escalate into medical crisis. (Photo by Zack Wittman for Direct Relief)
Evacuees walk the halls of a hurricane shelter in Panama City, Florida, in October, 2018, during Hurricane Michael. When people evacuate, they often forget medicines needed to manage chronic conditions, which can escalate into medical crisis. (Photo by Zack Wittman for Direct Relief)

Family photos. A laptop. The dog. Evacuating in the face of a natural disaster or other emergency has a way of distilling the most valued elements of a life.

But in the rush of trying to protect family heirlooms and loved ones, past evacuations have proven that “a significant proportion of evacuees from, or residents at disaster areas, lost their (chronic disease) medication,” according to a 2014 report that examined how disasters can cut off critical access to medicines.

These people, who either lose, forget, or are otherwise without sufficient amounts of their medication, referred to as “drug refugees” in the report, tend to overestimate the availability of their medications post-disaster, which has led to more challenging recovery environments — notably after Hurricane Katrina and the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.

“It’s really important to take care of yourself and your chronic diseases, even if you’re not having symptoms, because these conditions can easily lead to acute emergencies or other complications,” said Alycia Clark, a pharmacist for Direct Relief.

Clark has almost a decade of experience in emergency services, and recommends the following steps so that people who are forced to leave their homes in a disaster don’t fall into medical crisis.

What to Remember When Evacuating

  1. Know your medications. Write down a list of each medication and strength and know what you are taking them for.
  2. Keep at least a 2-week supply of medications on hand for emergencies.
  3. Remember supplies, such as needles and syringes, and glucose monitors and strips.
  4. Keep a written list of important phone numbers, including your physician(s), pharmacy, and relatives.
  5. Take medications in a waterproof bag during evacuations.
  6. Don’t forget about rescue medications including epi-pens for allergic reactions, inhalers for asthma exacerbations, and glucose gel or tabs for low blood sugar. The goals is to prevent an emergency room visit during an already stressful time.
  7. Keep a first aid kit ready to go for minor injuries to keep wounds clean and prevent infection.

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