Ten Essential OTC Medications to Stockpile

 Are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs really worth stockpiling?  As a family physician my answer is a resounding yes.  Most of the following were actually prescription medications when first released.  (In higher dosages, several still are.)  Although other OTC drugs are worth considering, these ten have been selected due to their ready availability, affordability, safety in both adults and children, and multi-use potential.  Used alone or in combination, they can effectively treat dozens of conditions including:  headache, fever, sore throats, ear ache, menstrual cramps, heartburn, arthritis, ulcers, diarrhea, allergies, hives, congestion, dizziness, mild anxiety, nausea, vomiting, poison ivy, athlete’s foot, ringworm, eczema, insomnia, backache, gout, diaper rash, yeast infections, and many more common illnesses. 

1.      Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) – Among the OTC anti-inflammatory medications, ibuprofen is probably the most versatile.  Primarily indicated for pain and inflammation, it may also be used to relieve headaches, earaches, sore throats, sinus pain, stiff neck, muscle strains, menstrual cramps, arthritis including gout, and back pain.  It is also effective at reducing fever and is generally safe for use in children.  It is not advisable for most stomach-related pain, although may decrease the pain of kidney stones, kidney infections, and possibly bladder infections.  The most common side effect is stomach irritation or heartburn.  When combined with acetaminophen it is nearly as effective as codeine, tramadol, or hydrocodone in relieving more severe pain. 

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About Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

CYNTHIA J KOELKER , MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance her medical education.
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8 Responses to Ten Essential OTC Medications to Stockpile

  1. Wayne says:

    Thanks Doc for another great article….

    I have been buying extra OTC meds for a couple of years now and keep them in the vegetable bin of an extra refrigerator we have in the garage.

    Will keeping them cool like that extend the shelf life a couple of years or am I wasting my time?

    Thanks Wayne
    PS: Hope your son is doing better.

    • Doc Cindy says:

      Thanks for your concern about my son. He’s back to school, still limping some, but feeling better.

      I know of no specific data regarding your question, except to say avoiding extremes of heat or cold is advisable. For OTC meds I’d suggest checking the file print for storage recommendations. For example, the bottle of ibuprofen (in my hand) recommends storing at 68-77 degrees Fahrenheit, and to avoid high humidity and heat above 104 degrees F (which may become an issue in warmer climates).

      I am not an expert on pharmaceutical manufacturing, but it makes sense that most drugs would be formulated to be maximally stable at room temperature, since that is the temperature most people would store them at. Components other than the active ingredient may also require room temperature storage. (This reminds me of the bottle of laundry detergent I left in my sub-freezing garage overnight . . . what was once a uniformly thick liquid separated into a watery liquid with gunk on the bottom. Shaking it up did not restore the proper consistency. Maybe it’s like un-baking cookies.) I don’t imagine 10 degrees Fahrenheit, higher or lower, would make much difference, but you don’t want to freeze or overheat medications.

  2. Bruce C. says:

    USP pharmaceutical grade antibiotics are available OTC in the US, try Amazon.com.

    Canadian pharmacies also have some additional medications not available OTC in the states, if you live there… Besides Tylenol 3 (whose pain killing effect could be potentiated by some common cold medicines), permethrin, 5% lidocaine, methocarbamol, and EpiPens are available OTC in Canada. Good additions to your Armageddon Medicine cabinet.

    [Doc Cindy: Although Canadian pharmacies may have the above meds OTC, in the U.S. antibiotics (other than fish antibiotics) cannot be obtained without a prescription. That’s not to say you might not find them online, but buyer beware. And I wonder if calling something “USP pharmaceutical grade” guarantees that they actually are.]

  3. Ann M. says:

    I just ordered your book & can’t wait to get it! I work in the mental health field, and what keeps me awake at night is wondering what in the heck people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders will do in a TEOTWAWKI situation. If they are off their meds even a few days they can become too psychotic to care for themselves, and some of them can be dangerous off meds. Are there any alternatives to antipsychotics in a situation like this?

    • Doc Cindy says:

      Thank you, Ann. The question of mental health at TEOTWAWKI is a serious one for all of us. Some will be grieving, some will be desperate, others will be energized with renewed purpose. But those with serious health problems such as psychosis may suffer immensely. Stockpiles of medication will last only so long, but then what? Many patients will take to self-medicating with alcohol. Other plant-derived drugs may provide sedation (marijuana, opium), but won’t improve a patient’s thinking.

      A Cochrane review of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the treatment of schizophrenia states:
      The use of Chinese herbs in a Western medicine context, without incorporating TCM methodology, has been evaluated in six trials, although again these are limited by their sample size and study length. The results of these six trials suggest that using Chinese herbs alone for psychotic symptoms may not be indicated, but if used in conjunction with Western antipsychotic drugs, they may be beneficial in terms of mental state, global functioning and decrease of adverse effects. However, further trials are needed before the effects of TCM for people with schizophrenia can be evaluated with any real confidence.(Read the full review online at: http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab003444.html)

      What this says to me is that plant-based therapy may be effective, but we westerners are unfamiliar with how to do so effectively. It really isn’t fair for American doctors to discount thousands of years of Chinese medicine. On the other hand, it is often difficult to isolate the placebo effect versus a therapeutic effect, especially when mixtures of compounds are used. Any qualified practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine are invited to reply.

      For any patient suffering from a psychotic illness, stockpiling several years of medicine is a consideration. However, the newer antipsychotics are very expensive and psychiatrists may be unwilling to write prescriptions for large quantities of medicine. For ideas to overcome this barrier, please read: “How to Get Your Doctor to Help You Stockpile Medication” at http://armageddonmedicine.net/?p=76

  4. b wallace says:

    Doc: I don’t know if you got my other e mail regarding acid stomachs/reflux etc. I realize that there are several meds around for treating stomach probs, both ‘script and otc. Myself, I lean towards natural/homeopathic. Have you heard of using vinegar, both white and cider, for heartburn, acid stomach and even reflux? In most cases, the stomach is settling before the vinegar taste is gone,and it works longer than most otc remedies. In addition, white vinegar is known for its ability to regulate blood sugar, cider for sinus probs. No unpleasant after effects either. They do work, and lots of your readers might not be aware of their uses. Might be the only thing around in a grid down situation. Still love your site.

    B Wallace

    • Doc Cindy says:

      Hi, below is the answer I posted on the other article. My apologies for the delayed response. My son was in the hospital and I’m just now catching up.

      * * *

      I have not tried vinegar for heartburn, but find similar advice on several non-medical websites. On the medical sites I can’t find a confirmation that this should work.

      My acid-base chemistry is a bit rusty (a lot rusty, really), but a weak acid like vinegar may be able to partially neutralize (or at least dilute) a stronger one like hydrochloric acid (stomach acid). Of course, water can dilute acid as well, but since pH is a logarithmic function, diluting stomach acid 50:50 with water doesn’t make that much difference. Maybe I should just buy some hydrochloric acid and try it out. Any chemists out there are invited to contribute.

      • Jake, PharmD, PhC, BCPS, PhD says:

        What works very well (although it has a less-than-refreshing taste) is to TWO (2) TSP of Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) mixed very well into about 8oz of WARM water. Yes it is gritty…yes it is bitter…just drink it down fairly quickly and be done with it. You’ll start burbing A LOT and after each burp you feel much better. It rids the burning feeling from your chest area by neutralizing the HCL acid within the stomach. It also lowers (slightly) the pH of your throat and stomach lining…this gives your body a chance to reduce any inflammation that might have occured.

        [Jake is right, but caution to those with hypertension, edema, or heart failure, as the salt content can cause fluid retention. – Doc Cindy]

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