Early Prescription Refill Laws: How Early Can You Refill a Prescription

Questions often pop up about early prescription refill laws, and a lot of people want to know how to go about refilling, when to refill, what drugs they can refill, the early prescription refill law, and a lot more. Let’s put you in the know!

Early Prescription Refill Laws

Overview of Early Prescription Refill Laws

An early prescription refill occurs when a pharmacist authorizes a one-time refill of a maintenance medication because a healthcare provider cannot be reached in a timely manner.

Prescription refill rules vary between insurance plans, and refills can also depend on the state or territory you’re in and the type of medication being filled.

The primary reason drug refills are regulated is to prevent the abuse and misuse of controlled substances, like opioids or other addictive medications.

If you have a medication that follows the 28-day rule on a 30-day supply, it indicates that you can get a refill no earlier than 2 days before the 30 days are up.

The number of days between refills varies significantly, though, so this is not a set-in-stone rule.

Laws and policies regarding controlled substance prescriptions are much stiffer than for non-controlled substances. These sort of medications often can’t be refilled more than a couple days early.

Can I Get an Early Prescription Refill?

Yes, you can get a prescription refilled early, but it depends on certain factors.

The main reason why some prescriptions are allowed to be refilled sooner is to protect patients from non-adherence and taking medications incorrectly based on timing, frequency, duration, and even dosage.

According to the CDC, around 3.8 billion prescriptions are issued annually, and one out of five of these prescriptions are left without refilling at the right time, causing improper dosage, frequency, and applied duration of medications.

This can make the overall treatment ineffective. Non-adherence to medications is dangerous, and the world health organization continuously emphasizes the importance of medication adherence throughout the entire treatment for a successful treatment procedure.

Non-adherence to medications has accounted for 50% of treatment failures and has even caused 125,000 deaths every year in the USA.

So, because of these reasons, certain medication are allowed to be refilled early. Patients will not have to miss out or run out of medications, thus causing non-adherence, especially if medications are supposed to be taken routinely.

But it’s important to remember the number of days before which one can refill a prescription is based on the number of “days supply” mentioned in the prescription.

For example, a prescription given for a 14-day supply can be refilled early as on the 12th or the 13th day. Again, the main reason to refill prescriptions early is to make sure one does not have to run out of medications.

But still, not all medications can be refilled early because of specific safety reasons.

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Early Prescription Refill laws

Early Prescription Refill Laws

1. You Can’t Refill Schedule II Prescriptions

All controlled substances available through prescription need to include a long list of information about you, the prescriber, and the drug itself.

One of the most important pieces of information is the date the prescription was issued.

The date of issue signals when the prescription expires except in the case of Schedule II prescription drugs. Any Schedule II substance has no expiration date.

What is a Schedule II drug? These are usually narcotics, which includes:

  • hydromorphone
  • methadone
  • oxycodone
  • meperidine
  • morphine
  • codeine
  • hydrocodone

Basically, you can only receive the drug for the quantity prescribed. You must also send it to the pharmacy within seven days, or the pharmacy must notify the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

These are just federal laws. Each state may also have its own laws or regulations for additional requirements.

2. You Can’t Refill Schedule III and IV Prescriptions after 6 Months

Other drugs that fall into Schedule III and IV are prescriptions that featureless stringent rules. However, there are still limitations.

These are drugs you cannot refill after your fifth refill or when six months pass after the prescription is issued.

Can I Refill Early for Controlled Drugs (like Vicodin, Xanax, or Adderall)?

As you may have inferred from the above discussion, controlled drugs (Xanax, Vicodin, etc.) are different when it comes to refills and other pharmacy practices.

Controlled drugs contain chemicals that are regulated not just by the FDA but also by the U.S.

Early Prescription Refill Laws

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Pharmacies are stricter when it comes to early refills of such medications to ensure that patients do not start abusing or diverting them.

There are no federal limits regarding the quantity of Schedule II controlled substance prescriptions dispensed, but the amount prescribed by a practitioner must be consistent with a legitimate medical purpose.

However, most states and insurances limit dispensing a schedule II prescription to a 30-day supply.

For example, in Massachusetts, a Schedule II prescription is valid for only 30 days from the date of issue. Schedule III and IV prescriptions are only valid up to six months after the date of issue.

How to Get Emergency Prescription Refill for Controlled Substances?

In the case of a controlled substance, the healthcare provider will have to call a pharmacist requesting that they dispense the controlled medications.

But the healthcare provider must provide a written and signed prescription to the pharmacy within seven days after the emergency prescription has been distributed.

However, when dispensing such early refills for emergency purposes, the quantity dispensed should be only for treating the patient for the specific emergency period.

Valid Reasons for Refilling Your Prescription Early

There are only a handful of situations where you may be allowed to refill your prescription early :

  • You will be traveling and need to bring a supply of your medication for your trip
  • If your medication has been stolen and you have a police report to show your pharmacist, doctor, and/or your insurance company
  • There is a weather emergency expected (e.g. a hurricane ) and you need to keep a supply of your medication at home in case you can’t make it to the pharmacy

In all situations, documentation and early planning are key. It is likely that both your doctor and your pharmacist may need to be involved (in cases where a doctor’s note or updated prescription is required).

In some situations, your pharmacist will simply follow the “travel exception or emergency exception guidelines provided by your insurance plan, if you have one.

In other cases, they may need an updated prescription, where your doctor specifies a 60-day supply versus a 30-day supply.

If you use a controlled substance, an early refill may not be possible. In that case, speak with your prescribing physician about your specific situation.

How Many Days Early can I Refill a Prescription?

Prescriptions are filled by pharmacists based on the supply your doctor or other clinician specifies.

The supply is calculated by dividing the total quantity of medication prescribed by the number of times you take the medication each day.

For non-controlled 30-day prescriptions, most pharmacies will allow you to refill at least day 28 (or 2 days before you should run out of medication). Your refill date can also depend on your prescription insurance.

For example, routine, maintenance medications, such as for high blood pressure and diabetes, can often be refilled as early as day 25 (of 30 days total).

The same goes for refilling a 90-day prescription: you can usually do so at least two days before you run out. However, you may be able to refill it earlier based on your insurance coverage.

Pharmacies understand that patients on maintenance medications, such as for high blood pressure, may misplace a few tablets and will usually provide a few tablets to hold you over until your refill date is permitted.

Early Prescription Refill Laws

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With the answers provided, your question on the early prescription refill law must have been answered alongside some misconceptions you might have had in mind too. Good luck!

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