How Long Is a Prescription Valid After It’s Written? And What to do!

Posted May 6, 2019 by Prescription Hope - See Editorial Guidelines(Last Updated On: April 28, 2023)

According to a study by The National Center for Health Statistics, 48.9% of Americans have used at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days, and up to 11.9% use five or more prescription drugs.

It’s hardly surprising that many people are wondering whether their old prescription for maybe an ongoing health issue or one which they may have previously suffered is still valid. Read on to find out more, but first, let’s provide a quick, clear answer.

How long is a prescription valid after it is written? Prescriptions for non-controlled drugs are generally valid for 1 year after the date it was written. A controlled substance listed in Schedule II expires 6 months from the date written. After the prescription expires, the pharmacist must obtain authorization from your Doctor. This can vary from state to state.

Many prescriptions can be refilled for up to 18 months after it has been dropped off at your local pharmacy as long as there are refills available. Controlled medications can only be refilled for up to one year.

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Generally, prescriptions will expire either six months or one year from the date that the prescription was issued. Beyond the expiry date, the pharmacist must then obtain authorization from a doctor on whether to continue refilling the prescription, even if refills still remain on the original prescription.

Can My Doctor Give Me an Unlimited Amount of Refills?

If you’re wondering if your old prescription is still valid, you may also be wondering if your doctor can give you a prescription for an unlimited amount of refills.

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is no. Your doctor cannot write you a prescription for an indefinite amount of time.

Even if you have 100 refills on your prescription you will only be able to refill the prescription for up to 18 months (or 1 year depending on the medication).

This time frame begins from the day it was brought to the pharmacy.

This limit, although frustrating, is for your own protection. Any quality medical practice will make sure they book a consultation with you for further evaluation prior to writing out another prescription.

Prescriptions can be written to avoid unnecessary trips to the pharmacy and if you have a long-term condition that requires a daily program of medication.

For instance; for high cholesterol, your doctor can write you a prescription for 90 days on each fill. This results in a prescription for 90 days with 3 refills, which provides you with enough of your medication to last a whole year.

How Long Is My Antibiotic Prescription Valid For?

Maybe you had an infection 6 months ago, and are now suffering similar symptoms and wondering if your prescription is still valid.

It is recommended that you consult with your doctor first before you get your prescription filled or refilled as it may be your needs have changed medically and you now may need a completely different medication to treat a new infection.

So it’s always recommended to make sure you check this out with your doctor to confirm the nature of your infection, as it may be different to your previous infection and may require a totally different course of treatment.

prescription expiration date

Types of Prescriptions

There are many different ways your doctor can prescribe drugs and create a prescription for you. Here, we’ll look a bit more in-depth as to the many ways available and how, if at all, it may affect the length of time your prescription is valid for.

Phone Prescriptions

Sometimes if you’re out of state, your doctor will call in a prescription for you as his patient. In 2017 most doctors have switched over to a secure electronic mail system called Escripts.

In some states, all prescriptions are sent this way unless otherwise requested. However, if your specific prescription is a Schedule 1 drug, this requires a hard paper copy prescription.

For the majority of drugs, a physician may refill a prescription without seeing the patient in person, but your doctor must see you first before prescribing any new medication.

A Faxed Prescription

In the vast majority of cases, prescriptions should be collected by patients or their representatives prior to dispensing as per most practice protocols.

The use of fax machines for routine transmission of information is generally to be discouraged. This is mainly because of inherent legal and patient confidentiality risks.

However, it is acknowledged that in some cases the use of fax machines for transferring prescription information between a healthcare provider, and a pharmacist can be valuable.

For example, in an urgent out-of-hours setting, where issues of time or distance result in unrealistic collections – prior to dispensing taking place.

A faxed prescription provides an assurance to the community pharmacist of the details of a prescription and is preferable to a prescription being called in.

However, a faxed prescription is not a legal document and the prescribing doctor must give the original prescription to the pharmacist within 72 hours.

Below are listed the protocols which should be followed to ensure your faxed prescription is valid.

  • fax machines should be stored in a secure area
  • Data protection states that clinical and patient information should be faxed separately
  • Ensure only essential information is faxed
  • All prescriptions should be fully completed before faxing including the patient’s signature

Virtual Consultation Prescription

With the advent of virtual consultations, many doctors are prescribing prescriptions virtually, by email, or direct to your pharmacist after a virtual appointment.

Doctors prescribing via these methods of consultation will not usually be able to prescribe controlled painkillers, such as strong painkillers and hypnotics, unlicensed medication, medication that requires specialist prescribing and monitoring or medication that needs to be administered by injection.

The overriding conclusion is that no matter how your prescription arrives at the pharmacy either by phone, email, fax or in person, the above time limits prevail, but as stated previously, be sure to check the proper guidelines for your own particular state as these can vary from state to state.

‘No matter how your prescription arrives at the pharmacy,
check the proper guidelines for your own particular state’ 

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 What If There’s Missing Information on My Prescription?

Pharmacies are very busy places with an average pharmacist filling up to 25 prescriptions in a single hour according to while errors are luckily very rare, they do happen. So make sure you’re on the lookout when dealing with your own prescription.

Illegible hand-written prescriptions are becoming less frequent, which were a notorious source of drug errors. The advent of electronic prescriptions is now becoming the norm.

A tip to ensure your health information remains correct is to stay with a particular pharmacy, getting to know the pharmacist rather than using multiple pharmacists or online drug retailers.

Customers should not be overly worried about prescription errors as they’re fairly infrequent, usually not serious, and easily corrected.

A prescription label with incorrect directions is probably the most frequent kind of error. It’s less common, but of course, far more dangerous when a patient’s prescribed the incorrect dose or completely wrong medication.

Many drugs have names that sound alike or look similar when written down, and when arranged alphabetically on a pharmacist’s shelf it’s very easy to choose the wrong one by mistake!

If you identify an error, let your pharmacist know right away, this gives the pharmacist the chance to document the mistake, locate the source of the error, correct the mistake and prevent further errors going forward.

‘If you identify an error, let your pharmacist know right away’ 

Does The Date of My Pills Mean Anything?

So, do pills expire? The expiration date on a drug is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full safety and effectiveness of any particular drug.

Interestingly, most of what is known on this subject is from a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration – at the request of the military.

The Military had found themselves with a huge, expensive stockpile of drugs, which they found they were having to dispose of at the end of each year. What was discovered from this study was that 90% of more than 100 drugs, including prescription and over the counter were actually perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date!

It’s true that the effectiveness of the drug may decrease over time, but much of its original potency still remains – even a decade later. This does exclude liquid antibiotics, nitroglycerin, and also Insulin, so make sure you check with your doctor if you take those medications.

pharmacist prescription

What to Do If Your Prescription Runs out of Date or Expires?

Are you wondering what to do because your prescription has expired and maybe your next Doctor’s appointment is a month or so away?

Under certain conditions, your Doctor is able to extend your prescription for a limited time to avoid the interruption of drug therapy. Take a look at the conditions below:

  • Pharmacies cannot renew a prescription for a period longer than the original prescription period
  • If the original period was longer than one year, the pharmacist isn’t able to renew your prescription for a period that exceeds one year.
  • Certain medications can’t be extended. Talk to your pharmacist for more information
  • In every case, your pharmacists will be required to let your doctor know there has been a renewal

It’s important to remember, your Pharmacist does not replace your Doctor. You will still be required to consult your doctor for a new prescription after your pharmacist’s renewal.

However be aware, after looking at your drug file and asking questions regarding your health, your pharmacist may decide not to extend your prescription or extend it only for a shorter time, this is at their own discretion.

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Overall, we can see that prescription length can vary from State to State, although generally, the 1-year validity is a good rule of thumb. Make sure you check with your local pharmacist, or doctor, or get in touch with us either by phone or email and we’ll be happy to help you with any questions you have regarding your prescription medication and how you may be able to acquire them cheaper through Prescription Hope’s medication access service.

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