Wednesday, March 29, 2023


Prescription refills on the road: The good, the bad and the ugly

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

pills-745We 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. 





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1 year ago

Wondering if RV Travel would revisit this subject? Hubby and I wish to travel full time for a year but haven’t found a solution for script refills. The one script we have poses a issue as it is considered an Opioid (Tramadol). Does anyone use a mail order that will send to ever changing addresses? Other suggestions?

Jay French
4 years ago

I have a Sams Plus Card & made sure my Doctor specified 90 day Generic prescription refills.
Have had zero problems & their low cost Generics are far better as in $1 or $4 generics than Walmart, Walgreens, CVS & other Franchise Pharmacies.

4 years ago

I get my breathing meds from overseas and don’t have the problem of some pharmacies filling them and others not being allowed to . I save my plan D for spur of the moment type meds such as prednisone or an antibiotic and purchase them at the local CVS. An added bonus is that a one year’s supply of my meds from overseas costs about the same as what a three-month’s co-pay would be if I bought them in the U.S.

Phil Atterbery
4 years ago

As a retired USAF NCO my wife & I can use the TriCare Express Scripts mail order service. Really great, unless, you stay in parks that don’t take mail for thier residents. TriCare will only use the US Postal Service. Not sure if they will mail to a general delivery address but I’m going to look in to it.

4 years ago

Full-timing for three years and counting with multiple medical “issues,” I’ve learned the ins and outs of prescriptions pretty well. The main challenge is when your “home” doc retires and you no longer have a reliable prescriber. I’ve had to go to small town urgent cares just for prescription refills, and it’s a big hassle. Although I hate and avoid CVS, they’re starting up a vertically integrated concept of clinic+ pharmacy that might prove effective for accessing routine prescriptions throughout the country. We’ll see.

For several years I did the mail-order pharmacy thing. I have Medicare and they use OptumRx, which wins the “most undertrained staff ever” award in my book. After losing two shipments of my medication due to sheer incompetence, I fired them. Now I use Costco, for the simple reason that one of my inhalers costs $200 at retail pharmacies, but only $50 at Costco! That’s just for one medicine, one month. It’s very much cost effective to pay the annual membership fee, to save $1800/year!

If anyone has a good strategy for getting access to prescribers while full-time on the road, I’m listening. Since I tend to wander all year, I really don’t have a “home base.”

Jane Richardson from Vt.
4 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Laura, We are basically having the same issues. I have a few necessary minor prescriptions. We are going on a five year trip and don’t plan on returning to this area where my doctor resides. She will only give me a 1 year prescription for these meds. She will re-issue if I return to see her yearly. Do you know any more about the developing CVS clinic and pharmacy concept? Have you been able to find a solution to accessing prescribers while traveling across the country?

Curtis Dowds
4 years ago

Don’t know if there are Costco’s in Canada but traveling California I’ve found Costco pharmacists very approachable. In some cases they do need a new prescription from your primary care physician and, since Costco’s are organized by districts, if you’re out of your home district your local pharmacy will have to move the prescription to the pharmacy where you’re traveling. But the pharmacists themselves have been very helpful

4 years ago

While trying to refill prescriptions in New York, I was told by the pharmacist that they would cancel the rest of my refills and I would need a new prescription for more. Said this was their state law. I had to hop the ferry over to Vermont to refill them instead and that pharmacist verified that New York would have canceled my prescriptions if they had filled them. Stupid, ridiculous law.

4 years ago

Many of the mail order drugs are also on the $4 list at WM, some free in FL Publix like metformin & lisinopril, get a 3 mo rx w refill, pay $10 for 3 mo… why bother with insurance for those drugs.. or just get an Rx for 1 year, pay the $40 fir the whole supply and be done with it.

4 years ago

Just don’t bring your Canadian Tylenol#3 200 tabs/$11 OTC supply into US… if caught you will be charged with intent to distribute! It is a closely guarded CS drug in the US, not OTC.

4 years ago

Florida, AZ,WA, NH, MT, soon IL, and some others states, also recognize ARNP/Nurse Practitioner prescriptions, by state laws, not just ‘physician’ .
Must be very careful about controlled substances/ narcotics, though, usually only border states will fill, if at all.
I’m thinking of starting a refill ‘clinic’ just for ability to exchange Canadian prescriptions for US written!

Tommy B
4 years ago

This time wal mart stunk.. My wife needed a refill while in treassure island to and it took three days of calling Wisconsin and bad attitude on the part of employe at a store in st. finally get it we are switching back to Walgreens

4 years ago

We take as many as we have with us. Usually 2 to 3 months worth, timing is everything.
If we need more we go online to order more. Since we use Wal-Mart Pharmacy “pick up at nearest store” some drugs are only authorized for 1 time transfer but we’ve managed just fine from Florida, New England states to Alaska. It helps to, that some of our perscriptions, can be gotten over the counter at a higher price.

4 years ago
Reply to  Danny

State laws usually prohibit legends drugs from >1 transfer per Rx. Some chain pharmacies have solved this by ‘pickup location ‘ options so the Rx itself isn’t transferred.’
Cannot for CS/narcotic though as state laws differ than Federal.
Pharmacist always gave an unrestricted right to decline to fill any prescription.

Dr4Film ----- Richard
4 years ago
Reply to  Danny

I found out that New York State will only fill a transferred RX once then cancel the balance of refills. Now I always carry paper RX to fill when needed in any place other then “home” which is FL while we are away for the summer. Plus we start out our trip with a 90 day supply on board and use the paper RX’s after we have run out.

4 years ago

Bring enough to last the length of your vacation coming from Canada can get you in a lot of trouble.
There limits of what and how much of your prescriptions you can bring into the US from Canada.

4 years ago
Reply to  Bruce

The information I have is that Canadians going to winter in the U.S. can only bring in a 3 month supply of Rx. I take a 6 month supply with me and have never been asked at the border. If I was asked I would declare exactly what I had. Only thing worse than lying to a border agent is getting caught lying to a border agent.

Doc Fuddled
4 years ago

The best way we have found to bypass these restrictions is to have our meds sent to a mail forwarding address. From there, our meds are shipped to us regardless what country we might be in.

Judy Glazier
4 years ago

Walmart pharmacies have been my mainstay for 10 years of full-timing. Generally each one can make the transfer and fill the prescription in half an hour – time to pickup needed groceries and supplies.

4 years ago
Reply to  Judy Glazier

Walgreens is also great, in the US.
We used mail forwarding for the 5 years we full-timed in the past. I had meds sent to Canada with no problems.
Be aware, pay attention to your supplies. Set alerts or reminders in your phone so you order before you are at the last pill.

John Springer
4 years ago
Reply to  Lizzy

Hmm. I’ve used Walgreens for years, but they told me they wouldn’t mail the prescriptions. My insurance (Aetna) also dropped them as a preferred supplier, so I switched to Aetna Home Delivery (mail order pharmacy). They are a nightmare to get started with and have possibly the worst web site in the industry, but it’s cheap and I can get stuff anywhere.

Diane M
4 years ago

We use CVS at home in California. Rarely had a problem finding a CVS or getting prescriptions filled. If we had medical issues while traveling and in a small town w/o a CVS would get number, then call our doctor back home. Since they know our history they would just call in a prescription to the out of town pharmacy for us.

4 years ago

We use Walgreens and only once in 7 years was there not a WAGs available (central Montana). Any WAGs can fill an RX on file with any WAGs. Walmart can do similar, but the service is not as good and they tend to transfer the RX to the new store. Not as slick as WAGs. At any rate, using a nationwide RX provider is the way to go if one is travelling a lot.
I know, 90 days is cheaper, in some cases, but not worth the trouble if one is full time.

Tom Gutzke
4 years ago

Returned from a recent 23-week trip from Wisconsin to Arizona and then Florida. We were able to obtain a “vacation refill” form our mail-order pharmacy which gave us two 90-day supplies of our medications. A couple of medications will not be filled at a 90-day supply. Others are technically OTC – Over-the-counter items like vitamins. Giving a pharmacy the Rx number will allow the transfer. Be sure to mention if there are ‘variations’ like generic or brand-name drugs that you use. Otherwise they use the lowest-cost medication – which doesn’t always work for everyone.

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