SPRING HILL, Fla. (WFLA) — David Small’s anxiety was getting worse by the minute.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Small said. “I was nauseous, I didn’t eat. I kept thinking the worst.”
As Hurricane Ian barreled toward Florida with fury, path still unclear, Small got his hurricane kit ready. He had enough of everything but his opioid pain medication, oxycodone.
“With the pain medications I have my aches and pains,” Small explained. “There are days I can’t get out of bed. Without it, I don’t know how I could even fathom getting to safety.”
The Spring Hill resident lost his leg years ago, thanks to a tumor and a lupus flare-up. He thought he could get an emergency 30-day refill, and made call after call to his insurance company, Florida Blue.
“Going to have to wait until Monday, we’re not open,” Small recalled Florida Blue representatives saying. “Nobody is here to take your order. Should have thought about this before now.”
In a statement, Florida Blue said: “Prescription drugs that are highly regulated by the state, such as opioids and amphetamines, are not eligible for automatic early refills due to the stringent guidelines in place from the state aimed at reducing abuse and overuse of these medications. If a member is in need an early refill of their controlled medication, we encourage them to speak with their pharmacist in addition to calling the toll-free number on the back of their member ID card.”
Small called, and called, and called.
“There’s a Florida statute that requires pharmacists and doctors be able to issue and fill a 30-day supply once the governor has issued the emergency declaration,” said Ryan L. Terry, public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County.
“It’s not just to get you through the storm,” Terry said. “It’s also to prepare you for after the storm.”
Small spoke with various Florida Blue representatives and felt turned around after so many phone calls. Finally, he got his medication overnighted to him — it arrived Tuesday afternoon — about 24 hours before Ian made landfall. Now, Small wants it to be easier for people like him to get the medications they need.
Medical experts also recommend not using mail-order pharmacies with controlled substances if you need early access to medication. They also say it’s best to keep those prescriptions at the same pharmacy month after month — switching pharmacies can look suspicious.
You can also use what’s called a “vacation exception” if you need an emergency refill. It’s a one-time exemption to get your medications usually due to a long vacation, but it can be used for hurricanes and other disasters. It is a once-a-year exception, so if you use it and there’s another emergency, you’ll need to speak with your insurance or pharmacy.