How Long Is A Prescription Good For?

Written by Ally Streelman

NowRx Pharmacy

How Long is a Prescription Good For?

Normally we are not too worried about how long a prescription is good for or when it will expire.

That’s because when we visit the doctor and they prescribe a medication, most of us go to the pharmacy right away to fill it before receiving the medication and heading 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.

example of a written online prescription for NowRx pharmacy delivery

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?

In other words, how long is a prescription valid after it is written? A prescription is typically good or valid for one year from the date your doctor orders it. However, this will depend on the patient’s state and the classification of the medication. Some prescriptions for uncontrolled medications are valid for more than a year in certain states, and prescriptions for controlled medications are usually valid for less than a year. Below, we share the specific states where prescriptions are valid for one year or longer.

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 classification of the medication. 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 issues is to fill your prescription as soon as the doctor prescribes it. Not only will this help you avoid any problems, but it will also ensure that you adhere to the medication regimen your doctor intends. Following these tips will result in better treatment outcomes.

How Long Does a Pharmacy Hold a Prescription

After dropping off your prescription at the pharmacy or having your doctor call in a prescription for pick-up, you will typically have between 2 and 14 days to pick up your prescription. How long you have to pick up your prescription will depend on your pharmacy. For instance, CVS will hold a prescription for up to 2 days, and Wallgreens will hold a prescription for up to 7 days before canceling the order.

If you can’t pick up your prescription during this time, you can have a family member or friend pick up your prescription for you. Or, if your pharmacy offers delivery, you can have it delivered to your home. With NowRx, your medication will arrive at your house within 3-4 hours of us receiving the prescription from your doctor.

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