Medication safety in a disaster

A disaster may make it difficult for you to access your medication or affect the safety and suitability of certain medications.

Get prepared

The best way to ensure you have access to your medication in a disaster is to plan in advance and be prepared for anything. You should have all your medications, prescriptions, medical care plans and other important information in a safe and accessible location ready to take with you in the event of an emergency.

For more information on being prepared, read the health emergency kit factsheet (PDF 522 kB).

I don’t have my prescription

In an emergency you can still get your Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS) medicine without a prescription.

If you can get to your usual pharmacy, they may supply some medications, depending on the situation. For instance, your pharmacy may provide you with medication for 3 days without a prescription (emergency supply) or contact your doctor for a verbal or electronic prescription, in some situations.  Your doctor may also choose to fax or email a digital copy of the paper prescription to your specified pharmacy.

You may have to pay for verbal or electronic prescriptions and the full cost of the medication for an emergency supply. The cost of a three-day emergency supply does not count towards your PBS Safety Net.

I can’t get to my usual pharmacy

If you can't get to your usual pharmacy, visit another community pharmacy if it is safe.

In a disaster where you are not able to reach a community pharmacy, your GP’s prescription can be filled by a Queensland Health public hospital pharmacy. However, please be aware that hospitals may not stock the full range of medication prescribed by your GP, as the needs of hospital patients can be different.

I can’t access my money

First, try and organise emergency payment from Centrelink so that you are able to pay the legally required co-payment for the medication. A co-payment is the price paid by the person for a prescription, the price can vary if the person is on a concession card.

In an urgent situation, you may be able to negotiate a credit arrangement with your pharmacy or public hospital pharmacy. If a pharmacy or a public hospital agrees to dispense medication without collecting a co-payment, they will record the details and will ask you to pay any co-payments later.

Use and disposal of medication after a disaster

Some medication may be damaged, unsafe, or unsuitable following a disaster. This may be a result of:

  • contact with contaminated floodwater
  • exposure to heat or smoke from a fire
  • damage to the packaging or the medication from an impact, for example part of label missing, illegible label, broken or punctured container, or perforated blister strip
  • exposure to temperatures, light or humidity outside the guidelines on the manufacturer’s label, caused by damaged, insufficient or inadequate storage, including when power is temporarily unavailable.

Salvaging medication

Persons should avoid any unnecessary, direct contact with damaged or unsafe medication. Salvaging of medication is not recommended unless you are certain the package, contents and label have not been affected in any way. Any affected medication must be disposed of in the appropriate way.

Disposing of medication

There are certain laws that regulate the disposal of medication. Medication must not be disposed of as general waste, discarded, or abandoned.

Small quantities of medicine waste may be given to a pharmacist under the Commonwealth funded Return Unwanted Medicines project.

Large or commercial quantities, including waste from aged care, hospitals and other health facilities should be given directly to an authorised medicine waste management company for high temperature incineration.

Needles, sharps and liquid cytotoxic products should be placed in designated sharps or waste containers specifically designed for such waste and disposed of via existing commercial disposal arrangements.

For more information about disposal and destruction of medicine waste and associated processes, please refer to the factsheet disposal and destruction of diversion-risk medicine waste (PDF 165 kB).

Medication in an evacuation centre

During a disaster, people may have to seek shelter at an evacuation centre in a hurry with little to no personal items, and without medication, aids or medical equipment. The storage of personal medication in an evacuation centre is a personal responsibility, however evacuation centre staff are available to assist where required.

Evacuee responsibilities

  • You should always check that the medication you bring with you has not been affected by the disaster and is safe to use. If you are unsure, it is recommended that you call your GP or a local pharmacy for advice.
  • You should always manage and store your medication in a way that prevents theft, particularly of prescription medication.
  • All medication should be stored appropriately to prevent access by children, accidental poisoning and to prevent contamination of food, drink or other medication, if the medication’s container breaks or leaks.
  • You should only be taking your own dispensed medication. You must not sell, lend or give away their medication to other persons.
  • You must mark your name on your medication.
  • You must take your medication with you when you leave the evacuation centre.

Evacuation centre management & staff responsibilities

  • Evacuation centre management are not expected to be specialists in caring for people with disability but can be proactive in supporting all affected people if needed.
  • Safe to consume food and drinking water should be available for you where food or water is needed for taking medication.
  • Evacuation centre staff should check the name on the medication before releasing from storage.

Medication administration

  • Evacuees are responsible for taking their own medication as per the label or packet/container.
  • Where evacuees need assistance, a carer might be able to assist them. A carer must be asked by the evacuee to help them take their medication and the carer must only assist the evacuee to take their medication as per the directions on the dispensed medication label or packet/container.
  • Where evacuees do not have a carer to assist them, there may be a suitable person at the centre to undertake this role—such as a medical practitioner, registered nurse or an adult with first aid training.
  • Where evacuees need to take medication with food or water, make sure that safe drinking water is used.

Further information

  • Contact your doctor, pharmacist, hospital or health clinic
  • Call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) at any time
  • Contact 13 QGOV (13 74 68) for your nearest public health unit

Download the medication safety in a disaster factsheet (PDF 349 kB).

Last updated: 4 January 2024