By Russ and Tiña De Maris
We once ran a video tip showing how easy it is to get drug prescription refills while traveling. The upshot of the video was to simply carry your pill bottles with you, and when you get close, take them to a pharmacy wherever you are and ask the local pharmacist to have the prescription transferred to that pharmacy.
One of our alert readers pointed out this could be a problem for Americans traveling in Canada – that Canadian pharmacies can only fill prescriptions written by Canadian docs, and that the reverse is also true – prescriptions written by Canadian doctors can’t be filled in the United States.
Yet another alert reader cautioned that while that advice may be true in some places, it ain’t necessarily so across the board. Our reader knows of what he speaks – he’s a retired pharmacist from the Sunshine State of Florida. Well, it all got us to thinking, there must be more to the picture. And it’s true.
We propounded this question to authorities in several states popular to snowbirds, and here are the answers we received:
Florida writes, “[Florida] law allows the pharmacist to fill a prescription from Canada only if the pharmacist determines that the physician writing the prescription is appropriately licensed in Canada and the pharmacist determines in the exercise of her or his professional judgment, that the order is valid and necessary for the treatment of a chronic or recurrent illness.”
Both Texas and Arizona state officials gave us a similar response, a prescription written by a Canadian physician would generally be acceptable to be filled. While we could not get an official comment from any California state officials, across the board, several California pharmacists told us they COULD NOT fill prescriptions unless they were written by U.S. physicians.
But beware: One overarching federal law trumps all of this. In order to get a prescription for a controlled substance filled, the prescription MUST be written by a physician with a valid Drug Enforcement Agency number – and those DEA numbers are issued only to U.S. providers.
And then there are other players in the game. Your insurance company may limit just how “big” a refill can be. Some are happy to issue a 90-day supply (often because it’s less expensive for them to do so), but if you need more than a three-month supply, what then? A reader of ours who is a nurse said in some cases you can call your insurance company and explain the situation. “Use the term ‘vacation override’. They all seem to recognize that term and are happy to send a larger than normal amount once they are made aware of the situation. You should have your departure and return dates and all of your prescription bottles handy when you call.”
On the other hand, while you may get cooperation from your insurance company, the pharmacy may have its own rules, particularly when it comes to controlled substances like prescription painkillers. Some have policies that will not allow them to honor out of state narcotic prescriptions. “And,” adds one experienced reader, “if you are fortunate enough to find a pharmacy that will fill your script, you may find it frustrating when they do not have the medication in stock. For security purposes, their own policies do not allow them to say when their inventory will arrive and they will not call you when it comes in. You may have to return daily to check, nor will they confirm any the stock over the phone.”
Bottom line: No matter where you’re from, in country or out, bring enough of your medications to cover your needs, or call a pharmacy in the state you’ll be traveling through to find out if you can get your prescriptions filled. Work with your doctor and insurance company before you hit the road to avoid prescription pains.