Ask Doc: Antibiotics During System Collapse


Ask Doc: Antibiotics During System Collapse

Reader JB asked a good question regarding access to medications for preparedness, and one that is related to the “nanny” state we live in. I have a great deal of respect for most doctors (and all other medical personnel), but one area that a number fall short on is patient empowerment.

There is this pervasive idea that the masses are generally too uneducated to be able to understand the intricacies of medicine. And while I agree that many procedures and drugs require intimate knowledge to effectively and safely perform and prescribe, I think most people can learn to manage them.

Specifically with medications there should be more emphasis on “why” you are getting a med in addition to the mechanics of taking it.

The two medications JB inquired about are penicillin (which I will extrapolate to antibiotics in general) and insulin (which is a whole post in itself and I will cover next week). Generally physicians are hesitant to prescribe antibiotics for “just in case I need it someday” scenarios. Historically people are really terrible about taking prescriptions to their end (which is really a failure of a provider to do appropriate education). Also, honestly, some physicians are lazy and just prescribe antibiotics for conditions that don’t need them or for which the class of antibiotics is inappropriate. These two things have led to the selective breeding and mutation of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which is a huge and growing problem. Because of this, the medical industry has swung to the other side of the pendulum and is now stingy with prescriptions.

In a system collapse scenario, you are concerned with two main issues needing antibiotics: wounds and bacterial based “colds.” You should also be very concerned about whether or not the person needing them has an allergy to the medications.

For wounds we can break antibiotics into two categories, before an infection (prophylactic) and after an infection has set in, and will determine whether you need to take a single dose or a full course.

Colds are little trickier as they require you to be able to more precisely identify the bug unless you have access to a good multispectral antibiotic.

So, how do you get access to antibiotics? That is the real trick. There are a couple of ways.

The best way is to form a relationship with a doctor where you can have open and frank discussions about your needs and then explain your rationale along with planned usage. When I need medications because of an extended trip or travel to a foreign country, I would phrase it along the lines of, “Hey Doc, I’m going to XXXXX and will be hours/days from definitive medical care. I would like to have some medications at my disposal that I can take if I get a wound before infection sets in (because hygiene is going to be an issue). I would also like something to help if I get a cold from being exposed to people with different bugs than we see here–maybe a Z-pack or something. And can you help me understand the conditions when it would be appropriate to use it?” Basically have a reason for it and a plan.

Failing that, you need to really take some time and learn about antibiotics. There are tons of good resources on both the web and via Amazon. Once you identify what you will be taking them for, go check out your local pet store (like PetsMart, PetCo, etc) and head over to the fish section. Strangely enough many of the medications used to treat infections in a fish tank are the same ones people use (though in different dosages). That said, make very sure you know what you are taking, how much you need to take, why you are taking it, and for how long you need to take it.

A good pocket resource for medications is the Tarascon Pocket series:

A really stellar educational resource for System Collapse Medicine is Greg Ellifritz (of He teaches occasional courses in this and should be at the Lone Star Medic’s 2017 Field & Tactical Medical Conference next June.

Mandatory Disclaimer (so none of you run off and start pretending to be medics): This article is not a replacement for actually receiving training. It is for your own personal knowledge and is based on best practices and standards of training.

If you have a burning question about a wilderness medicine related concept, feel free to send an email to [email protected] I will pick a question (or two) each week to discuss. You can read about my background below.

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Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Before that, he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie,” and assaults 14er in his sandals, and engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming copious water. To fund these adventures, he writes all manner of content (having also held editor positions at several publications) and teaches wilderness medicine and off-road skills. He hopes that his posts will help you find the gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it (and the training to use it). Learn from his mistakes--he is known (in certain circles) for his curse...ahem, find the breaking point of anything. You can follow him at

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