How long is a prescription valid?

Published Aug 14, 2020 • Updated Aug 16, 2020 • By Candice Salomé

A prescription is a document that allows the patient to be given medication, equipment (crutches, glasses, etc.) or to undergo a medical procedure (consultation with a specialist, radiology, etc.). Depending on the type of prescription, the period of validity differs. So, what does a valid prescription look like? How long is a prescription valid?
We tell you everything in our article!

How long is a prescription valid?

The period of validity of a prescription as well as its compliance with legal requirements are necessary for medicine to be dispensed or a medical procedure to be carried out.

What does a valid prescription need to include?

For a prescription to be legally valid, it must include the following elements:

  • the date,
  • the name of the patient,
  • the name of the medication or medical procedure requested,
  • the prescribed dose of medication,
  • the duration of the treatment and the number of renewals if necessary,
  • the prescriber's signature in ink (doctor, dentist, nurse, etc.)

It must be issued on paper or in electronic form by a healthcare professional.

In addition, if the patient is taking a medication that should not be abruptly stopped or taken without medical supervision, it must be noted on the prescription and be specified verbally to the patient.

The prescriber's signature must appear immediately below the last line of the prescription to avoid additions and fraud.

How long is a prescription valid?

For medicines:

Standard prescriptions are generally valid for 1 year after the date it was written, unless the medicine prescribed contains a controlled substance. The patient therefore has 1 year to go to the pharmacy and have the medication dispensed. Beyond this time, the prescription is no longer valid and the pharmacist will no longer be able to give the treatment(s) to the patient. The date on the prescription can be either:

  • the date it was signed by the healthcare professional who issued it, or
  • a date the prescriber has indicated the prescription should not be dispensed before.

If both dates are listed on the prescription, the 1 year starts from the later date.

Many prescriptions can be refilled up to 18 months after it has been dropped off at the pharmacy as long as there are refills available, though this may vary. Controlled medications can only be refilled for up to 1 year.

In case of emergency or in the case of treatment that cannot be interrupted without serious health consequences (medications for certain chronic illnesses and life-threatening conditions like high blood pressure or seizures), a pharmacist may be able to dispense an emergency supply even if the prescription has expired. Laws about emergency prescription refills vary by state. Some states only allow emergency prescriptions to be dispensed during a state of emergency and/or natural disaster. Many states also have regulations about dispensing emergency supplies of Schedule II drugs and other controlled substances with a high potential for abuse.

To find out more about emergency prescription refill laws in your state, you can consult the CDC Prescription Preparedness page, or your state's health department website.

Following an emergency dispensing, a new prescription from the doctor will be required.

For controlled substances:

Some medicines are controlled under the Controlled Substances Acts legislation. These include medications such as morphine, codeine, methadone, fentanyl and oxycodone. These medicines are sometimes misused, so strict legal controls apply to their supply.

A prescription for a controlled medicine is generally valid for 28 days from the date on the prescription. If you have a prescription for a controlled medicine that states it should be dispensed in several instalments, the first instalment must usually be dispensed on the date specified or within 28 days of the date on the prescription.

This may vary by state, for more information about prescriptions for controlled substances in your specific state, consult your state's health department website.

For medical examinations:

Orders concerning paramedical services such as nursing care, physiotherapy, speech therapy or laboratory tests are not subject to any time limit.
However, it is strongly recommended that examinations be carried out quickly after the prescription.

For appointments with a specialist:

For appointments with a dermatologist, cardiologist, surgeon, rheumatologist or other specialist, the primary care physician's referral has no expiry date. However, in practice, the specialist may decide that the consultation is no longer necessary if the patient's state of health has changed.

For eye glasses and contacts:

Prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses are generally valid for a minimum of one year, or the minimum required by state law. Expiration dates on eyeglasses prescriptions are commonly two years form the day of the eye exam when the prescription was written. However, the expiration date on a glasses prescription might be shorter (one year rather than two years, for example) if you are at higher-than-normal risk of your eyes changing more quickly

Typically, the expiration date on a contact lens prescription is one year from the date of the exam when the prescription was written. These prescriptions often expire after one year because it is important that your eyes be evaluated annually to make sure that your contacts aren't causing harm to the surface of your eyes or putting you at risk of eye infections.


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