When it comes to building your preparedness arsenal, one essential component to prioritize is stocking up on over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Disaster events can disrupt the availability of prescription medicines, making it crucial to have a reliable supply of OTC drugs.
These medications, which should be included in your survival medicine cabinet, effectively address a wide range of common medical issues. They provide relief from pain, manage symptoms of respiratory and intestinal infections, alleviate allergies, and tackle various other ailments. By understanding which OTC medications to stockpile, you can ensure your readiness for potential disaster scenarios.
OTC medications, the essential components of a survival medicine cabinet, encompass a wide range of drugs that address common medical issues. They provide essential relief from pain caused by injuries, alleviate symptoms associated with respiratory and intestinal infections, manage allergies, and tackle various other ailments.
It is worth noting that many OTC drugs were once obtainable only through prescriptions, but now they are accessible to the general public. This unique opportunity allows prepared citizens to stockpile these crucial therapies for a multitude of problems in their survival medicine cabinet.
Considering the complexity involved in manufacturing pharmaceuticals, the production of these drugs would be nearly impossible following a collapse. Even aspirin, the oldest manufactured drug, may not be recognizable or available in such circumstances. Therefore, it is wise (and cost-effective) to accumulate certain medications in your survival medicine cabinet to prepare for potential disaster settings.
In your survival medicine cabinet, it’s important to have a variety of essential over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Let’s explore some of the key options.
How to stockpile your survival medicine cabinet
Aspirin, 325 mg: If you already have ibuprofen and acetaminophen in your medical storage, it’s still worth considering adding aspirin to your survival medicine cabinet. Aspirin has been trusted since the late 19th century as a pain reliever, fever reducer, and anti-inflammatory. It also possesses blood-thinning properties. Additionally, aspirin is beneficial for older individuals with coronary artery disease and a history of heart attack or stroke. In the case of a suspected heart attack, chewing an entire adult aspirin can provide immediate assistance.
It’s interesting to note that the active ingredient in aspirin can also be obtained by chewing on a cut strip or a tea made of the underbark of a willow, aspen, or poplar tree. To address pain, fever, and inflammation, take two adult aspirin (325 mg) every four hours.
For coronary artery disease and as an anticoagulant, a daily dose of one baby aspirin (81 mg) is recommended. In survival settings, higher doses may be appropriate to replace stronger blood-thinning drugs like Coumadin (warfarin), although further research is needed to determine the exact amount. It’s important to watch for stomach upset and exercise caution in individuals with kidney and liver disease.
Acetaminophen 325 mg (Tylenol): Among the popular pain relievers and fever reducers, acetaminophen is a must-have in your survival medicine cabinet. While it’s not an anti-inflammatory, this drug is excellent for treating pain and fevers. It’s particularly suitable for children when taken in lower doses. Tylenol is available in regular (325 mg) and extra strength (650 mg) formulations. For adults, the recommended dosage is one to two tablets every four hours.
Ibuprofen 200 mg (Motrin, Advil): As another popular pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, and fever reducer, ibuprofen is an essential medication to stockpile. Its versatility in addressing various problems makes it a valuable addition to your survival medicine cabinet. Ibuprofen effectively eases pain from strains, sprains, arthritis, and traumatic injuries. Additionally, it helps reduce inflammation in the affected area and lowers fevers caused by infections.
However, be cautious of potential stomach upset, and individuals with kidney and liver disease should use it with care. The recommended dosage for ibuprofen is one or two tablets (200 mg) every four hours, three tablets every six hours, or four tablets every eight hours (up to a maximum of 3,200 mg within 24 hours).
Pepto-Bismol (Bismuth sub-salicylate) 262 mg: This versatile OTC drug, Pepto-Bismol, is an important addition to your survival medicine cabinet. It effectively addresses various problems, including heartburn, indigestion, nausea, gas, and diarrhea. It is particularly considered the drug of choice for traveler’s diarrhea.
Keep in mind that it may cause black-colored bowel movements. The dosing regimen may vary, but a common recommendation is to take two regular-strength tablets (524 mg) orally every 30 to 60 minutes. Do not exceed eight doses of regular Pepto-Bismol within 24 hours, and the total therapy should not exceed two days.
Loperamide (Imodium) 2 mg: Given the high likelihood of food and water contamination issues in the aftermath of a disaster, loperamide is an essential medication to include in your survival medicine cabinet as an anti-diarrheal. By slowing down intestinal motility, it helps prevent water loss and dehydration. Surprisingly, dehydration resulting from diarrheal disease caused more deaths during the Civil War than bullets or shrapnel.
The usual dosage is two tablets (4 mg) after the first loose bowel movement, followed by one tablet (2 mg) after each subsequent loose bowel movement. The maximum intake within 24 hours should not exceed four tablets (8 mg). Additionally, consider stocking rehydration salts, a vital mix of electrolytes that can be added to water to restore balance.
Laxatives/Stool Softeners: In your survival medicine cabinet, it’s important to include options for addressing constipation caused by long-shelf-life foods. These binding foods may necessitate the use of stool softeners and laxatives. There are various types available that work in different ways to aid in evacuation. While laxatives and stool softeners have similar objectives, they function differently.
Laxatives help stimulate bowel movements, while stool softeners like docusate (Colace, Senokot) moisten and soften the stool. While all stool softeners have a laxative effect, not all laxatives have a softening effect on the stool. Examples of the latter include mineral oil, bisacodyl (Dulcolax), and glycerin. Most of these medications are intended for short-term use and should only be used when necessary.
Omeprazole 20-40 mg (Prilosec) or other antacids: When consuming unfamiliar food during a survival situation, issues with stomach acid can arise. To address heartburn, queasiness, and stomach upset, antacids are a valuable addition to your survival medicine cabinet. The recommended starting dosage for omeprazole is 20 mg once a day before a meal.
There are alternative options available, such as cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), and others. If you have stocked ranitidine (Zantac), be aware that older versions have been linked to certain cancers. However, the current version is the same as Pepcid.
Calcium carbonate (Tums) or magnesium sulfate (Maalox) in solid forms are also suitable for stockpiling. Rolaids is an OTC medication that combines calcium and magnesium, and it is effective for acid reflux and ulcer disease.
Meclizine 12.5, 25, 50 mg (Bonine, Antivert): Nausea and vomiting often accompany diarrheal disease, making meclizine an essential medication to have on hand. This medication helps prevent nausea and vomiting and is commonly used to prevent motion sickness.
Additionally, meclizine aids in alleviating dizziness and can act as a sedative. It may have potential uses as a sleep aid or anti-anxiety medication as well. For motion sickness, take one 25 mg tablet an hour before boarding, or take 50-100 mg daily in divided doses for dizziness, anxiety, or sleep.
Pseudoephedrine 30 mg, 60 mg (Sudafed): Pseudoephedrine is an effective treatment for nasal or sinus congestion caused by respiratory allergies and infections. It also provides relief from ear congestion resulting from otitis media and other ear inflammations. The recommended dosage is up to 60 mg every four to six hours.
Due to its association with the production of methamphetamine, Sudafed is typically obtained by requesting it from a pharmacist. Pseudoephedrine is also present in various anti-allergy medications, where it is combined with other ingredients. These combination medications may have brand names ending in “-D,” such as Claritin-D, Zyrtec-D, and Mucinex-D.
Diphenhydramine 25 mg, 50 mg (Benadryl): As an antihistamine, diphenhydramine is effective in alleviating itching, rashes, nasal congestion, and other symptoms of allergic reactions. It can also help dry nasal passages, although it may cause dehydration in some individuals.
At higher doses of 50 mg, it serves as an effective sleep aid. The recommended dosage is 25 mg every six hours for mild reactions and 50 mg every six hours for severe reactions or sleep.
Antibiotic Ointment (Neosporin, Bacitracin, Bactroban): When we find ourselves in situations where we must rely on our own resources, engaging in activities such as wood chopping and other tasks can expose us to the risk of injury. When these injuries break the skin, the risk of infection and subsequent serious illness increases.
Antibiotic ointments are applied to the site of the injury to prevent infection. However, it’s important to note that triple antibiotic ointment is not sufficient for curing deep infections; oral or intravenous antibiotics are required in such cases. Immediate application of the ointment after an injury significantly reduces the risk of infection. Apply the ointment three to four times a day.
Hydrocortisone cream (1%): Hydrocortisone cream is a mild steroid that effectively treats various forms of skin inflammation, including dermatitis, which can cause redness, flakiness, itching, and thickening of the skin. Its versatility makes it a suitable option for allergic dermatitis, eczema, diaper rash, and other similar conditions. Apply the cream to the affected area three to four times a day.
Clotrimazole, Miconazole cream/powder (Lotrimin, Monistat) (1-2%): Fungal infections can be bacterial, but they can also be caused by fungus. Common examples of this would be athlete’s foot (tinea pedis), vaginal infections (monilia), ringworm, and jock itch (tinea cruris).
Clotrimazole and Miconazole are examples of anti-fungal medications that would be useful to treat these conditions, which will be just as common off the grid as they are now, if not more. Apply the cream or powder twice a day for external infections. Although most anti-fungal vaginal creams are applied internally once daily, be sure to use as directed on the packaging, as they may come in different strengths. In some, the whole treatment course is over in one day; in others, three days or a week.
Multivitamins: In survival settings, the lack of access to a good variety of food may lead to dietary deficiencies, not just in calories but in vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C deficiency, for example, leads to scurvy.
To prevent these issues, you should have plenty of multivitamins in your survival medicine cabinet. Despite the recommendation on the bottle, you won’t have to take these on a daily basis, many multivitamins give you more than you need if taken daily, and you’ll just excrete what your body can’t absorb.
Insulin: Ensuring access to insulin is absolutely essential for individuals with Type I diabetes. In many states, basic forms of insulin (such as NPH and regular) can be obtained without a prescription. To maintain its potency, it is recommended to store insulin in a cool environment, ideally refrigerated between 36 degrees F to 46 degrees F. Freezing should be avoided. Sealed vials of insulin generally remain effective for about a year.
Remember, for greater comfort, it is advisable to warm refrigerated insulin slightly after dosing but before injecting. If refrigeration is not feasible, keep insulin vials between 59 degrees F to 86 degrees F, and they should retain their potency for approximately 28 days. As part of your preparedness strategy, always ensure you have extra vials of insulin stored in the refrigerator within your survival medicine cabinet.
Antibiotics: Antibiotics typically require a prescription in the United States; however, in long-term survival scenarios, certain veterinary equivalents used in the aquarium and avian pet trades may serve as potential options. It is important to note that antibiotics are primarily effective against bacterial infections and have limited or no impact on viral illnesses. While considering the inclusion of antibiotics in your emergency medicine kit, exercise caution and, if feasible, seek professional medical advice.
The good news is that you can probably obtain a significant amount of all of the above drugs for a reasonable amount of money. To retain full potency, these medications should be obtained in pill or capsule form; avoid the liquid versions of any of these medicines if at all possible.
When storing, remember that medications should be stored in cool, dry, dark places easy to access but away from children. A medicine stored at 90 degrees will lose potency much faster than one stored at 50 degrees. In addition, your survival medicine cabinet should include OTC supplies other than medicines. A good variety of bandages and dressings are necessary to deal with wounds and orthopedic injuries. Antiseptics such as povidone-iodine solution (Betadine), chlorhexidine (Hibiclens), Benzalkonium Chloride (BZK), and isopropyl alcohol will help prevent infections and save lives.
Over-the-counter drugs are just another weapon in the survival medicine cabinet; accumulate them as well as prescription drugs for chronic illnesses and other problems. Review medical histories with group members to get an idea of what might be necessary to keep them healthy.
Natural alternatives are also important, such as aloe gel for burns. Certainly, you’ll eventually run out of the commercially made products. Supplies to treat bleeding wounds or other trauma are also imperative to have available. With a good stockpile, you’ll have everything you need to keep it together health-wise, even if everything else falls apart.
This article has been written by James H. Redford MD for Prepper’s Will.
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