When the availability of medications becomes severely limited, what’s a person to do if they suffer from diabetes, or pneumonia, or chronic pain, hypertension, asthma, or any serious condition?
Underlying this simple question are several more. Without sufficient medication:
- Will a diabetic’s blood sugar soar out of control?
- Does a hypertensive patient run a serious risk of stroke?
- Will a person on antidepressant or anxiety medications suffer withdrawal?
- Will infection recur, possibly worse than ever, without a full course of antibiotics?
Now is the time to consider a future when medications are worth their weight in gold. The following are time-tested tips, which you can use when drugs are in short supply.
- Remove disease-causing factors from your environment. If you’re asthmatic, you may thrive without an inhaler once you stop sleeping with your cat. Animals anywhere in the house account for a large proportion of medication-dependence in patients with asthma, allergies, or COPD. If all COPD patients quit smoking today, the number of hospital admissions for COPD should easily be cut in half. Infections from animal bites would be rare, if pets and strays were treated with greater respect.
- Prevent serious withdrawal symptoms via tapering. Withdrawal from almost any potentially-addicting medication can be prevented via a tapering scale. The most common prescription drugs to consider are benzodiazepines (such as Xanax, Ativan, or Valium) and narcotics (such as Vicodin, Percocet, or Codeine). When withdrawal is a concern, tapering by 10-25% every three to seven days is quite safe (and in truth, many people can succeed cold turkey). The two main concerns regarding tapering are anxiety, due to fear, and re-emergence of underlying symptoms. An alternative to tapering the dosage is to extend the time between doseanti-inflammatoriess. Such medications are (temporarily) put on hold, with the option of administering a dose if symptoms become truly unbearable, gradually stretching the interval between doses. (A word here regarding antidepressants, particularly Effexor: Although stopping these drugs does not cause withdrawal, a discontinuation syndrome is common, and one of the above approaches is often needed when stopping these medications.) In general, narcotics and anxiety medications should be reserved for pain or anxiety so severe that activities of daily living are impossible without treatment.
- Minimize your effective dose. This applies to nearly all medical conditions. Rather than simply popping a pill when your arthritis flares or your back acts up, try half a dose of your pain reliever and wait a few hours for results. If you take Prilosec or Prevacid twice daily for heartburn, perhaps once daily will suffice. One inhalation of Albuterol may work as well as two. You can measure the effectiveness yourself using a peak flow meter, available inexpensively at your pharmacy over the counter (OTC). Precious narcotics may be stretched by using only if Tylenol or OTC anti-inflammatories, such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen are ineffective.
- Understand when to treat symptoms rather than infection. The goal of antibiotic therapy is to minimize bacterial growth until your own immune system can take over. This does not necessarily mean taking an antibiotic until all symptoms are resolved. For example, for sinusitis, three days of Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole is as effective in the long run as a 10-day course. The natural history of many illnesses includes a period of post-infection inflammation. You may still experience nasal congestion for several days after a sinus infection is gone, but this does not mean you necessarily need an antibiotic that long. This is also true of bronchitis, where a cough may linger for weeks. Five days of antibiotic therapy is enough in most cases, where an antibiotic is actually required; in fact, most cases of acute bronchitis are viral and require no antibiotic at all. If “everybody has it,” a bronchial cough is likely viral. (For chronically recurrent bronchitis due to smoking, antibiotics are often helpful and may prevent pneumonia if COPD is significant; so, quit smoking now!) Symptomatic treatment should be directed primarily at improved function rather than improved feeling. If you can breathe okay at rest, consider skipping a dose of Albuterol so you’ll have plenty left when it’s time to chop wood. For bladder infections, 1-3 days of an antibiotic is often sufficient, rather than the 5-10 days typically prescribed. Some bladder infections can be resolved without antibiotics by simply increasing fluids (aim for a gallon of water a day).
- Supplement or replace prescribed medications with herbal or OTC alternatives. Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma can be treated, at least in-part, with over-the-counter preparations. Consider trying corn silk tea for hypertension or cinnamon for diabetes, or ibuprofen or willow bark tea for gout, or caffeinated beverages for asthma. Though these medications are not as strong as prescription drugs, they may help you stretch your medication when times are slim.
- Alter your diet to improve your health. If we all ate a third less, we’d all be a third (or more) healthier. In times of plenty, a calorie-restricted diet improves the health of patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, and gout, just to mention a few. In times of scarcity, we may have no choice. A diet high in potassium and low in sodium improves blood pressure. Heartburn or reflux can almost always be improved by avoiding known irritants such as alcohol, fatty food, acid foods (citrus, tomatoes), excess food, and spicy foods (as my patient who was eating 40 green onions a day discovered). Diabetes can often be cured with carbohydrate restriction. Then stockpile the medicine you don’t need now for a rainy day later.
- Find alternative answers now, while you can. Here are examples from my own practice: A good friend not only feels better, but learned to treat hypothyroidism herself with an over-the-counter desiccated thyroid product. An overweight patient lost 100 pounds and was able to discontinue insulin. Another found glucosamine-chondroitin allows her to function better than prescription medication. Another changed his diet and eliminated gout. Yet another was able to control her cholesterol with herbs rather than medication. Now is the time to explore your options, while labs and testing can confirm their degree of effectiveness.
Based on thirty years of medical experience, the above are the most common and effective ways to minimize your dependence on medication. However, there is more to health than the physical, and depending on our Creator God rather than medications alone is often, I believe, the ultimate answer.`
Cynthia J Koelker, MD is SurvivalBlog’s Medical Editor. For further information on the above topics and many more, visit her web site at www.armageddonmedicine.net, where you can also register for upcoming Survival Medicine Workshops.