Note: This contains an excerpt from Nuclear Survival in the Suburbs.
Iodide is a necessary element involved in the regulation of the thyroid gland. Humans obtain this nutrient from the foods that we eat, including iodized salt. The thyroid will readily absorb any iodide it encounters as it is unable to differentiate radioactive iodide or not.
Potassium iodide (KI) is advertised as a “nuke pill.” It is not an antidote for radiation; no such thing exists. Potassium iodide blocks the uptake of radioactive iodide into the thyroid by filling up the gland with harmless iodide. The thyroid, so filled, cannot absorb any significant quantity of radioactive iodide. This will lessen the chance of thyroid cancer and cannot protect the body in any other way from radiation.
This is most important in young children, infants, breastfeeding and pregnant mothers. Those over 40 years old generally do not need to, or should, take potassium iodide as they are more likely to have an allergic reaction and have the lowest chance of developing cancer or a thyroid injury. Some people may be allergic to iodide and should not take the pills.
Potassium iodide should only be taken in a radiological emergency, such as in an area contaminated with fallout after a nuclear war. Authorities and public health officials may distribute the pills and will advise when the medication should be taken. Dosages on the package or announced by public health personnel should be followed. Iodized salt is not a substitute for the pills. If purchasing pills for preparedness, this should be done well in advance of any nuclear crisis as supplies may be easily exhausted by panic buying.
Please do not rush out and buy KI just because. It may make some people ill who have an allergy to it. Also please note it is not a radiation cure-all.
Other drugs: If you need other drugs, like Nplate (intended to help with low platelet counts), you are going to probably die. Medical care after a nuclear war will be overwhelmed and radiation sickness severe enough to require prescription drugs. Many serious radiation sickness patients will only be given palliative care.
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.