A well-stocked medication go-bag can soothe a cut or burn—or save your life during a storm, flood, or other emergency.  

But it's important not to wait until disaster strikes to assemble your go-bag, says Geoffrey C. Wall, Pharm.D., a professor of clinical sciences at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Whether you buy a kit from a drugstore or build it yourself, Wall recommends that all households keep a medication go-bag on hand that contains the essentials, including: 

  • At least seven days' worth of over-the-counter and prescription medications you take on a regular basis. Label the containers clearly, and include a printed-out list of everything you take and the regimen for each medication, plus a copy of your health insurance card (in case you need medical care while you're away from your home).
  • An antihistamine for allergic reactions, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy and generic) or loratadine (Claritin and generic).
  • Pain relievers, including acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, and generic), or naproxen (Aleve and generic)
  • Stomach and antidiarrhea remedies, including loperamide (Imodium and generic) and bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol, and generics)
  • An antacid for heartburn, such as Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, Tums, and generic
  • Antiseptic wipes, an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin, Bacitracin Plus, Curad, and generics (use only for infected wounds), bandages, gauze, and tape, for treating burns, cuts, and wounds
  • Mosquito repellent to prevent bites, and aloe gel, hydrocortisone cream, or calamine lotion to soothe bites and skin irritation
  • An eyewash solution for flushing out eye irritants
  • Water-purification tablets
  • Scissors
  • Thermometer
  • Tweezers

If you and your family have special medical needs, you can build a more sophisticated kit, for example, one that contains hearing aids with extra batteries, an epinephrine auto-injector, glasses, contact lenses, or syringes.

Fill Prescriptions in Advance

For prescriptions you and your family take, consider asking your doctor for 60- or 90-day refills rather than a month's worth. That way you're more likely to have extras on hand. (That can also save you money. Just remember that drugs expire, so check them periodically.)

Always fill prescriptions on the first day you become eligible for a refill, rather than waiting until the day you run out. If you are able to obtain an emergency supply, establish a plan for rotating your go-bag supply so it remains up-to-date. 

"During an emergency, some states allow pharmacists to dispense an emergency supply of medications without doctor authorization," Wall says. But, he adds, "certainly if a known potential disaster, such a hurricane, is predicted, make sure you have prescription meds and supplies before it hits."

You might also ask your health insurance company to assist you in obtaining and maintaining enough medication and supplies to have on hand.

Storing and Maintaining Your Kit

Once you’ve gathered your supplies, pack the items in an easy-to-carry, water-resistant kit, and store it in a dry, cool place in your home. In case you have to evacuate in a hurry, you want to keep the kit in a secure place that's easy to access, but away from kids, Wall advises—for example, a high shelf in your bedroom closet. 

Check your emergency kit regularly and dispose of and replace any out-of-date supplies. Throw out any damaged medications or pills that are wet or look or smell different, as they could be contaminated by moisture.

Editor’s Note: This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).