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How Long is a Prescription Good For?

Written by Ally Streelman

NowRx Pharmacy

How Long is a Prescription Good For?

When you visit your doctor and they prescribe you medication, you can usually go right to the pharmacy to fill it, receive your medication, and head home.

But what if you forget to bring the prescription to your pharmacy? Or what if you don’t need the medication right away? How long is a prescription good for before you can no longer get your medication?

That’s the question we’re here to answer.

What is a prescription? 

A prescription is an order from your doctor that includes the name of your medication, the directions for taking it, and the quantity. Nowadays, a prescription is usually sent electronically however it can still be written, faxed or called in over the phone.

The terms prescription and medication are often used interchangeably, and although they are closely related, they are not the same. A “prescription” is the order your doctor “prescribes” outlining the medication, strength, dosage, and directions for how to administer it.

The “medication” on the other hand is the actual pill or substance you take.

How long are prescriptions good for?

A prescription is typically good for one year from the date your doctor orders it, however, this will depend on the state and medication classification. This video covers a brief overview.

Do prescriptions expire?

Yes, prescriptions do expire, but this isn’t the same as when your medications expire.

Medications have expiration dates, after which they may be less effective or potentially harmful. When your prescription expires, it just means your pharmacy can no longer fill or dispense the medication without a new order from your doctor.

The date when this occurs depends on the state you’re in as well as the medication’s classification.

When do prescriptions expire?

Prescriptions expire based on the type of medication the prescription is written for and the state where your pharmacy is located.

The type of medication is broken up into two categories: controlled and noncontrolled medications. For non-controlled medications, such as lisinopril and amlodipine, there is no federal law that stipulates a timeline. However, state laws do apply. 

In the following states, prescriptions for noncontrolled medications are good for one year: 

  • Alaska
  • Michigan
  • Kentucky
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • New Hampshire 
  • Utah
  • Oklahoma
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

In the following states, prescriptions for noncontrolled medications are good for more than one year:

  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Maine

There is no timeline for when prescriptions for noncontrolled medications expire in many other states including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. 

Just because a prescription is still valid under state law, however, doesn’t mean a pharmacist has to fill it.

A pharmacist can decline to fill a prescription if it has an old date, especially if it’s for a controlled medication or a medication they think may no longer be necessary. In any case, it is up to the pharmacist’s own professional judgment to determine whether to fill a prescription.

Prescriptions for controlled medications typically expire faster than those for noncontrolled medications. For instance, prescriptions for controlled medications, such as Ambien, Oxycontin, and Hydrocodone are only good for six months from the date your doctor orders the prescription. Controlled medications are broken up into 5 different categories, or schedules, by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

When do Schedule II prescriptions expire?

There is no federal timeline for when Schedule II prescriptions expire, however, most states have regulations in place. For instance, in California, prescriptions for Schedule II drugs expire after 6 months. 

Additionally, many pharmacists may not fill a prescription for a Schedule II drug after a significant amount of time has passed. This is because Schedule II drugs are considered dangerous and have a high potential for abuse, potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. 

Examples of Schedule II drugs include Vicodin, methadone, hydromorphone, Adderall, and Ritalin. 

When do Schedule III and IV prescriptions expire? 

Prescriptions for Schedule III and IV controlled substances expire 6 months after the date your doctor issues the prescription. This includes anabolic steroids, testosterone, Valium, Ambien, and Xanax, among others.

How long do you have to fill a prescription?

As we covered, how long you have to fill a prescription depends on where you live and the medication’s classification. Generally, you will have at least 6 months to fill your prescription from the time it was written and, in some states, there is no expiration date for your prescription depending on the medication.

However, the easiest way to avoid any issue is to fill your prescription as soon as the doctor prescribes it. Not only will this avoid any problems but it will ensure that you adhere to the medication regimen your doctor intends which will result in better treatment outcomes.

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