Every ship in the world carries an inventory of medicines. (termed “medical chest”)
What is inside that inventory depends on the regulations of each vessel’s Flag state. Usually, there is a distinction between ocean-going vessels and vessels that sail closer to the coast.
This list is not exclusive and many companies decide to add additional equipment through their company’s ISM. After all, you will notice that vital items such as a defibrillator or telemedicine monitor are absent from the “required” list.
Usually, the lists, which are provided by the company that arranged the medicine chest, are split into 3 parts.
It's crucial to note here that when a vessel is visiting the territorial sea of another country, it has to comply with its local regulations. One of those regulations is what classifies as a narcotic.
What your Flag state classifies as a normal medicine, might be considered a narcotic in another country. A great example is Nigeria, where even aspirin is considered a narcotic and if found in the medicine chest, a fine has to be imposed… The only way to avoid this is to ask your local agent for any particular requirements.
Local regulations create another hassle here, as substances that are considered a narcotic can only be supplied locally within the country of delivery and not from the provider that has arranged the medicine chest. Medicines don’t usually have the same brand name around the world and can even lack instructions in English, which makes it hard for the crew to include them in their inventories.
It is important to categorize these locally sourced drugs based on their active substance. It's possible that some of these medicines are not narcotics as per your inventory, so they should not go to the narcotics safe even if they were received by the agent as such. Apart from the active substance, the dosage can change as well. If your list requires you to have 5 x 12 tablets of 500mg, then you should receive 10 x 12 of 250mg and so on.
In this part, you might see a section named “antidotes” or “poison treatment chest”. This is a requirement of the IMDG code and requires additional medicines for cases of poisoning. You might already have some of these medicines on board on your normal medicine list, but they should be kept as a separate list.
Examples of these are oxygen masks, bandages, etc. pretty much anything that is considered a medical “tool”. The expiration date that you will see on these tools usually refers to the date they are no longer considered sterile. Sometimes steel tools such as tweezers come without a sterile packing. In that case, the crew need to sterilize them with 70% alcohol before using them. (that includes if you have opened the package in the past)
To see specific requirements, click on the Flag of your vessel.