When The Meds Run Out: Dealing with a society in withdrawal and finding alternatives to popular medications now & for SHTF

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: October 12, 2019
When The Meds Run Out: Dealing with a society in withdrawal and finding alternatives to popular medications now & for SHTF

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One fear that many have is not being able to get the medication they or their loved ones need for treating chronic conditions. The problem with running out of meds is much deeper than that. There are a ton of problems that our dependency on big pharma has created.

I am going to start this post with some ugly truths that we all may one day have to face in some way even if some of us don’t take any prescription medications.

You are going to have to learn how to mentally handle the prospect of what will start to happen and the result of medications not being available if you want to be truly prepared for a SHTF scenario.

There will be people that your heart aches to help but there is a good chance you either cannot or you have to decide that it is not in the best interest of your family to do so. The person may be someone very close to you.

This is a heavy article and very much an overview. There are many classes of drugs and conditions that I simply could not put in without writing an article many times this in length, If you have something to add, I highly encourage you to do so in the comments!

Did you know that 218,000 people died of prescription opiate drug overdoses in the USA between 1999-2016? 

More than 49,000 of these deaths occurred in 2017 alone and included the synthetic opiates like fentanyl that are deadly in very small doses. Heroin use has also increased significantly.

Overall drug overdose deaths for 2017 was more than 72,000!

Source: CDC Prescription Opioid Data

Just to put it in perspective, we lost 58,220 soldiers in the ten years we were fighting the Vietnam War.

Source: USA National Archives

People protested in the streets and rallied for major change during the Vietnam years. You don’t see that level of outrage about the opiate crisis, and we are losing insane amounts of the youth of America.

So using the CDC’s numbers, in 2017 alone we lost 14,000 more people due to drugs than in the entire 10 year Vietnam War. IN ONE YEAR! 

The zombies in the streets SHTF fantasy

The theory: People that are addicted to opiates or other hard drugs will go nuts and be dangerous.

Yes and no. While someone that cannot get their fix is going to be volatile and on edge, there are other things that have to be considered. Withdrawal can and often kills people with severe addictions. Going off heroin or prescription painkillers cold turkey with no medical support such as medication to ease off and someone to make sure an addict gets enough food and fluid to make it through, doesn’t always work out so well. I know people that have worked in the medical industry, and they see withdrawal kill people, and it doesn’t discriminate based on age.

There will be people acting crazy but the first month of SHTF will probably be the worst for this type of thing. Those with severe addictions may very well not have the physical capabilities within a few days of not having their “fix “to cause any trouble.

A real SHTF situation also means people will be on guard and even those that cause some trouble will likely not make it that long. There will be someone out there that eliminates them when they make a wrong choice because they are desperate and not thinking clearly. Where I live, a home invasion or intrusion results in someone getting shot.

This is the same reason why lone wolves during SHTF that don’t prepare and think they will take whatever they need from others will not last long.

Compassion reminder: There are people that are born with issues that they have no control over like schizophrenia or autism. Also, there are plenty of people with chronic conditions that are faced with a terrible situation when the meds run out.

Disorders like schizophrenia are often easily controlled with medications. The effects of autism are another example.

Remember before you judge someone too harshly that they may have an actual medical condition. This is not the same scenario as someone that is addicted to street drugs or pain meds.

Those with conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure are just a few examples of those that need medicine for a major health issue.

Addicts are people too. While their behavior is not acceptable, it is important to not dehumanize them either. People make mistakes, and some overcome them if given a chance.

Suicides have increased and will get worse if meds or drugs run out for any reason

One of the major side effects for a lot of “medications for the mind” is an increased risk of suicide. Withdrawal from narcotics also increases the risk. Someone in withdrawal may feel like they are dying anyway and be more inclined to follow through.

This is one reason why someone withdrawing needs people to look out for them.

Natural remedies to ease opiate withdrawal

This is not a substitute for major treatment. Long-term opiate abuse can cause a lot of different health effects. Cardiac events are all too common no matter what age the person addicted may be. During SHTF or for those that have a less serious addiction may find that these treatments help them get through the hardest parts.

I have listed at home treatment options by symptom. These are some of the more common withdrawal effects.

Fever and sweating or chills

Ibuprofen can be used to reduce the flu-like symptoms.

Dehydration due to vomiting or diarrhea 

It is critical to replace fluids and electrolytes. Pedialyte is an option during good times but something like Emergenc-E that comes in a powder form is a more realistic option to put back for a SHTF situation, and it stores in a small space. Imodium-AD can help eliminate diarrhea symptoms too.

Having the shakes

Shaky muscles and tremoring are common, but there is some evidence that St. Johns Wort can help relieve the shaking symptoms. St. Johns Wort can affect how other medications work, so it is best to find out if someone is taking other medicines.

Various mental issues

Drug addiction can affect someone’s mind in many ways. If they take other drugs on top of opiates, then the mixture can have all types of results. I am no psychologist, but when anyone is going through a hard time in their head, then it can help to take their mind off that as much as possible and direct that energy towards something else.

Staying busy can help at a certain point. Drawing, coloring, or building and creating something, for example, can create a sense of accomplishment and improve feelings of self-worth. That can be a very powerful force on the road to recovery. This is where having a supportive family and friends can be a big help and make all the difference.

Xanax is the most widely prescribed psychotropic drug in the United States and if you if you just stop taking it suddenly, your risk of death increases a lot. Those that take higher dosages are at the most risk of death if they suddenly cannot get their medication. I use this drug as an example, but there are others that have a higher death risk if a person suddenly cannot take them.

If you take medications, I recommend looking up info on withdrawal or stopping taking the medication. If you take something like this and there are alternatives, then you may consider looking into them.

If you wish to continue taking them or feel that you have to, then at least have an extra supply on hand so you can gradually wean yourself off of them if SHTF. Also, consider asking your doctor if a lower dosage is an option for your issue — the higher your dosage, the greater the withdrawal risks.

Of course, prescriptions like Xanax are often only refillable every 30 days so you legally cannot keep enough on hand to do much good in a SHTF situation. This is why I strongly encourage you to find other treatments if you can. Ask your doctor about alternatives with fewer side effects and withdrawal issues. 

SSRI’s or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

This class of medications includes the following FDA approved drugs:

  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Vilazodone (Viibryd)
Source: Mayo Clinic

The side effects of stopping SSRI’s are similar to many drugs and include:

  • Nervous behaviors or feeling on edge
  • Nausea and upset stomach
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Flu-like symptoms like fever, diarrhea, etc

There will be more people exhibiting some weird behavior.

We have a nation that is largely dependent on antidepressants. The ironic thing is that many of these medications increase the risk of suicide. All antidepressants including the SSRI’s listed above are required to have a warning on them that they may increase the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts.

Consider this theory, if a medication makes you care or feel less about yourself then what is that going to do about your feelings for others. In short, if you are numb towards your self and have little love for yourself as a person, isn’t it less likely that you will feel good about others?

All the major school shootings that I have researched have something in common, and that is that the shooter was taking prescription drugs that can cause suicidal thoughts or a tendency towards violence. Most of the media doesn’t like to touch on this fact, but it is true.

SHTF may out some addicts that did an excellent job hiding the true nature of their addiction

While there are some signs of addiction or prescription drug usage, you cannot always tell the extent of someone’s problem. Some addicts have the means to use substances and hide the fact from those around them. People don’t always act majorly out of it, and plenty of people keep to themselves.

Those of you that say that they have no room for addicts during SHTF may want to consider what you would do if someone you care about turns out to be taking medication or is on drugs that are suddenly not available.

Dealing With Hypochondriacs

Some people are used to getting medical treatment for the smallest thing. Our doctor system encourages hypochondria among the population.

Small visits to doctors cost the country a lot of money in medical reimbursement costs. People are often poor judges of what is severe enough to require a doctor visit. They always go, just to make sure,

There are people out there that don’t think that medical care or advice is worth anything and will not work unless it comes directly from the mouth or office of a doctor.

There are people out there that have a lot of medical knowledge and experience. They have kits put together for their families medical needs, and so they can respond and help others around them if needed. The sad thing is that there are some that would let a medical condition get worse before actually accepting medical supplies and advice from someone that doesn’t have Ph.D. or MD after their name or a fancy office. This is a big deal because more serious medical supplies are precious during SHTF. People don’t want to get into their major stockpiles of medical supplies unless necessary.

If you worry a lot about medical stuff or have someone in your family that does, prepare now!

If you are afraid that there will be no medical care available then prepare yourself now. Learn how to do basic first aid and take care of typical emergencies as well as a few advanced things if you can take a course. If you have a spouse or partner, then this is something you should learn together so you can take care of each other and any members of your group.

You may be squeamish, but you need to try to get over that. You can be prepared to take care of many different emergencies when no help is anywhere!

Anti Depressant and Anti Psychotic Withdrawal will be a tragedy in itself. I think it will be long lasting and people will not expect it to be so bad so they will not be prepared to deal with loved ones that start to exhibit symptoms.

So what do you do if you have to take in or care for a family member that is withdrawing from medications?

First of all, you need to realize the extent of the problem as much as possible. What substance or substances are the sources of the problem?

The severity of symptoms can vary so much. If someone is going into severe withdrawal, then they may need someone to keep a close eye on them and provide food, water, and clean up of the messy symptoms. Put it this way; you are going to need a bucket or two nearby if someone is ill and cannot keep food or fluids down. Electrolytes in water are a good idea because they can quickly be depleted.

If someone is exhibiting signs of being a danger to themselves or others, you may have to confine them. No one wants to have to do this but locking someone in a room that has been checked for anything they can use to hurt themselves or others.

During SHTF, some may be hopeless cases. This can be an extremely painful conclusion to come to.

I will say that I have personally seen people that do not have the will or the true desire to change. You have to ask yourself if you can help someone. I love the idea of bringing someone out of a very dark place, but if they chose the substance over someone they cared about you have to ask if they are going to do something for you that they wouldn’t work for their spouse or child even.

Consider alternatives to what you are taking or ways to reduce your meds now.

I have readers that have told me their wonderful stories about how they started getting physically fit and taking care of themselves and reversed a lot of their health issues related to cholesterol and blood pressure. These are not younger readers either, these are active adults in their 70s, and I applaud them for making the effort because it seems like people sometimes think it is too late for them to make improvements.

Consider natural substitutions

I know that there are some medicines for which there is no comparable natural replacement, but in some cases, you can use natural supplements to control symptoms. I know of plenty of people that take garlic for blood pressure control. When I was taking the SHTF school course by Selco, I remember he mentioned that during the Balkan War, many people used garlic in place of blood pressure medicine and it worked. I made a note of that because he saw it first hand in a real SHTF situation when there truly was no major medical care available and the medications wore out fast.

ADHD Medication

I have my concerns about how children and teens will be affected when they cannot get any ADHD medication.  If any of you have seen the results of this and feel comfortable sharing, please do so in the comments at the end of this post.

It seems like more and more kids are being diagnosed with ADHD. I honestly think that while this is a real condition, there are times it is used to label any child that has a hard time in a traditional school setting and needs more physical activity.

The problem is that one of the most commonly prescribed medications for ADD and ADHD are Amphetamine Salts. It is an upper, but doctors say that those with ADD experience a calming effect in many cases.

I was given Amphetamine salts a few years out of college by a doctor, and I don’t think that it calms you down. If you go to a doctor and say you can’t focus they throw pills at you, so you walk away feeling like you have done something. I stopped taking them after a few months.

Of course an upper will make you focus. Kids take this stuff all the time, and if the doctors treat them like they did me, they try to up the dose a lot more often than they should. You have to tell them no, and they still bring it up at the next visit.

My experience was 12 years ago, and I truly hope that things have changed and doctors are not trying to get you up to a high dosage as soon as possible.

A lot of Ritalin is prescribed too, but that is often changed to Adderall or the generic form, Amphetamine salts by middle school. I don’t think giving children a lifelong amphetamine habit is a good idea.

Natural Solutions and Alternative Treatments

  • Eliminate artificial colors and flavors from the diet
  • Enjoying the great outdoors. Children and adults that spend time outside tend to have the ability to concentrate better
  • Natural herbs and supplements such as gingko, ginseng, zinc, vitamin B-6, passion flower, and magnesium


Alternative treatment information came from Healthline, an excellent source for health and wellness information on the web.

Remember to discuss any changes with your doctor if you have access. Everyone is different, and other health issues besides ADHD may need to be considered.

Steps To Take Before SHTF

1. Make a list of medications used by members of your household.

2. Research the side effects and withdrawal effects online. Print the information and put it in a binder for reference if needed.

3. Research natural alternatives for treatment and put back a natural medical alternatives kit.

Examples may be garlic pills for blood pressure or passionflower for anxiety and depression: melatonin for sleep disorders, arnica for muscle soreness and pain.

If you don’t have a medicinal plants guide for your area, then I highly recommend getting one and learning some plants. Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants is my go-to guide for this, and what was used at the college I attended for folk medicine classics. CBD oil is readily available at even some drug stores it seems. It can help with anxiety, stress, depression, and a variety of other disorders.

Ask your doctor about an extra prescription.

A lot of medications you can get a lot at once. I suppose some medical insurances may have restrictions, but unless something is a controlled substance, you can usually get 90-day supplies. If you can get two of these, then you at least have 180 days.

Do you have a plan for when the meds run out? Have you used any natural alternatives to successfully treat medical or mental conditions?

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24 Responses to “When The Meds Run Out: Dealing with a society in withdrawal and finding alternatives to popular medications now & for SHTF”

  1. Please work with your MD to build up a stockpile. I, too, am steroid dependent (due to an autoimmune condition). It would be a miserable death. To me, it is so very worth the effort to maintain an inventory and rotate prescriptions. It is no guarantee I will ever have enough to survive a prolonged disaster, but at least I can buy myself some time. Yes, I know I will die someday. I just don’t want it to be prolonged and painful. Let there be peace …

  2. Surprised you did not mention alcohol. Withdrawal can be brutal. Large number of people in the alcoholic category.

  3. During the oil embargo of the 70’s, a group of friends (all in our 20s) were asked what would you miss the most if shipping is severely disrupted. The men all said cigarettes, alcohol, and coffee. (The women all said those three things came right behind tampons and toilet paper.) An interesting point is that water and food weren’t on the list. I’ve never forgotten that. I can only assume living without many kinds of drugs would be even worse for the people who take them Good article.

  4. My wife has taken a steroid since birth (55 years ago), keeps her alive. Without it, she’s dead in a month. When I talk about about SHTF, she says, “I’ll be dead, why prep.” It’s tough to talk prepping after that statement.
    Yes, have a month+ supply on-hand and probably could get much more during a STHF event because this drug isn’t one the top most wanted/needed drugs. Plus she takes a very small dose .5mg and I can find larger doses and cut them down and stretch the supply. In fact one part of our Team SHTF plans is hit up the drug store which is 1/4 mile from the house.

  5. Another very thought provoking article. Thanks. Folks shouldn’t forget about alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine use and the withdrawal that may cause them issues. Alcoholics (known or unknown) will be at greatest risk and some will die if their liver and/or brain are sufficiently damaged from chronic abuse. They will likely suffer DT’s, hallucinations, and severe biochemical/electrolyte imbalances during withdrawal. At the very least, they will put a severe burden on time (focus) and scarce resources. Caffeine and nicotine withdrawal symptoms will fade with time but can be moderately to severely debilitating in the short term (headaches, irritability, impaired thinking/concentration, etc). If one needs these substances it is much easier to stockpile the substance (vs. prescription drugs) and wean off over time. Better to start the detox process now while intervention and support programs are readily available. I’m not against moderate use of any of these substances (love my AM java). Just be aware of the consequences should they no longer be available. Knowledge is the fuel of change…

  6. Another hidden addiction to consider-the huge number of youths using Juul and having nicotine addiction. I just read an article this week that due to the much higher concentration of nicotine in these “vaping” things that they are seeing far more severe effects than they do with traditional cigarettes. And anecdotally from my teens they have TONS of classmates who are using these things heavily without their parents being aware.

    • That could take a while and in the meantime, it is an issue people need to be aware of. Also, I think a lot of people that have the same opinion as you may discover that someone close to them has a problem that they did not know about. During good times it is easy to say that “the sooner they shuffle off this mortal coil after SHTF the better” but what if you discovered someone you really cared about had a problem? Would you throw them out the door? What if it was your child? Some people hide addiction quite well and even a mild addiction could be a problem during any long term emergency.

  7. I would add a “Physicians desk reference” to your library. This book lists all the pills on the market with dosage information and what the pills treat and side affects. There are color pictures of each pill. These can be quite an costly book but you can find editions that are a year or two out of date fairly cheep. This way you can tell just what someone is trying to trade you after SHTF. And know what dosage you should take. Also note that Vet drugs are the same as human drugs in most cases just a larger or smaller dosage. And you can buy these drugs at the local feed store of farm store with out any paper work needed. And yes my mother who was a nurse treated me growing up several time with horse medication. Never had a family Doctor growing up but sure had a family Vet. I guess the livestock was more important.

  8. First let me thank you for this article. Then let me give you some insight into the ADHD issue. There is no doubt the some doctors prescribe medications for EVERYTHING willy nilly. ADD/ADHD is diagnosed very frequently in this country. I haven’t the statistics so I will address the phenomenon from a purely personal experience. Both my son and I are ADHD. In my day (i’m closer to 70 than 69), there was no “disorder” like either of these recognized. So most of us were the “bad” kids. If our parents couldn’t bring us in line that we were disciplined in school for our distractibility. There were no drugs for this. If it wasn’t for sports and outdoor activities as well as intense self-discipline I never would have made it through High school, let alone college. (I have to admit that Caffeine (a stimulant) in coffee helped a lot too. I wasn’t recognized as ADHD until my 30’s.

    Fast forward to my son’s experience in a parochial school at 8 years of age 28 years ago. Science and education had caught up. No one threw drugs at his condition. Intense evaluation and testing by professionals and medical doctors resulted in his diagnosis. we tried everything on your list nothing helped him. He was and is an active guy. Finally, Ritalin was used. We hated the idea. PA school administrators at the State level called the diagnosis as a “crutch for lazy parents” (big mistake saying that in a public forum that I attended but a different story). The results though were astounding. My son turned his grades around earning two commendations as most improved student in the next two years. As he grew older and bigger he was switched to several other drugs which allowed him to excel in the classroom, sports, and outdoor activities. He tried to drop the amphetamines and was scaling them back with caffeine when a national mail-order pharmacy stopped filling the scrips. Anyway in the past year through his own efforts, he is off the meds. He still runs marathons, lifts weights, plays softball, hunts, fishes, canoes and kayaks but… without the meds it is tough to shut out the outside stimuli in his work environment. A modified high protein diet helps but it is still a struggle.

    This is probably not what you wanted to hear but we need to put the syndrome in perspective. For some of us, the meds were and are a blessing. Alternatives don’t always work.

    • Thanks for sharing your story. Actually, examples like this are great to hear. Your story shows a range of experiences in two different age groups. It also shows the greatness that can be achieved when you approach an issue with strength and balance. I do think that true ADHD exists. I have been diagnosed with it in the past as I implied in my article. I think it is a pretty common thing with writers actually. There is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to dealing with it. Congratulations to you and your son for having the strength and motivation to find a solution that works for you. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  9. Hello! Let me first say that I a new subscrislber to your site and find your articles to be very thoughtful and invaluable.

    While I have certainly considered this subject when reviewing my current Prepper status, I failed to consider my family’s potential impact from society at large. As an herbalist, my wife has mentioned as well as stock-piled many natural remedies you mentioned and more. My hope is that my fellow readers strongly consider the massive potential impact your article describes.

    Keep up the great work and thank you for your efforts!

    R. L.

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