Drug safety after a disaster

Fires, floods and other extreme conditions can affect drug efficacy. Here are some guidelines to help you decide what to do with exposed medications.

Fires, floods, tornadoes and thunderstorms can do significant damage to a farm. As you balance your cleanup efforts with the ongoing care of your horses, one of your more important decisions is what to do with any medications you keep on hand—especially if you are treating a patient who needs daily doses. These guidelines can help you decide how to handle drugs that were exposed to different conditions:

It’s always best to dispose of medications that may have been altered or compromised.
  • Loss of refrigeration: Drugs that need to be kept refrigerated, such as some antibiotics, can be rendered ineffective if they are allowed to come to room temperature. A closed refrigerator will keep its contents cool for some time, but if the power is out for more than four hours, the drugs may need to be replaced. No matter how long the electricity was off, replace any liquid medications that have changed in color, cloudiness or consistency.
  • Extreme heat or freezing temperatures: The label on a medication’s bottle will give you a range of temperatures for safe storage. Any that have been exposed to high heat, from a fire, or freezing temperatures may have been chemically altered. It’s best to replace those exposed to extreme conditions.
  • Water damage: Seals on drug containers aren’t meant to be waterproof. No matter how clean the containers may appear, any drugs that have been submerged by flooding need to be discarded—rising waters from both natural and municipal sources are often contaminated with pathogens. If your roof was damaged and rainwater got to your medications, use your best judgment. If pills and powders are dry and appear clean, they may be safe, but avoid using drugs from cracked or otherwise damaged containers, especially if it’s clear that water, dirt or other contaminants got inside.

It’s always safest to discard and replace any questionable drugs. But ask your veterinarian for guidance if you’re providing daily treatments to a horse and replacement medications may not be immediately available.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #426.

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