Let’s look at the difference between prescription renewals and prescription refills. Plus, learn about what you should do with expired medications.
Have you ever wondered how a prescription renewal was different from a prescription refill? And then there’s the expiration date. Do medications really expire — and can you take expired medications?
Nicole Dixon, pharmacy manager at Geisinger Pharmacy in Belleville, explains everything you need to know.
What’s the difference between a prescription renewal and a prescription refill?
There’s one main difference between prescription renewals and prescription refills. With refills, you will automatically receive or can call for more medication when your supply runs low. If you need to manage a recurring infection, for example, your doctor may prescribe a medication with a certain number of refills. You’ll see the number of total refills remaining on your first bottle, and each time you get a new bottle, that number will go down.
On the other hand, if your doctor prescribes a set amount of medicine but you use it up and find you need more — or if your medication bottle says “no refills” — you’ll need a prescription renewal.
“Essentially, you’re in charge of your refills, and your doctor is in charge of your renewals,” says Mrs. Dixon. “If your doctor doesn’t give you a prescription renewal, you cannot continue your medication.”
Prescription renewals can be done in one of three ways:
- You can ask your doctor at an appointment.
- You can call or message your doctor to request a renewal.
- You can call your pharmacy and ask them to send a request to your doctor for a renewal.
“Just remember that your pharmacy can’t fill a medication until the doctor sends in a prescription renewal,” says Mrs. Dixon.
Sometimes, you might stop taking a medication on your own if your symptoms have subsided, only to find later that your medication has expired. If this happens, there’s a proper way to handle an expired prescription.
Can you take expired medications?
While you might be tempted to use medications past their expiration date, you shouldn’t. The expiration date is an indicator of how effective the medication will be, and if it’s safe to take.
“If you have a prescription that has recently expired, you can call your doctor and ask for a prescription renewal,” says Mrs. Dixon. “Dispose of any expired medications to protect your health.”
Expired medication disposal
If you have an expired medication that you no longer need, Geisinger's medication takeback program can help.
“You can dispose of unused or expired prescriptions safely at a medication disposal box, so they don’t end up in the wrong hands,” says Mrs. Dixon. After you drop off your medication in one of our secure boxes, it’s taken to an incinerator for final disposal.
If you dispose of expired medications at home, the first thing to do is scratch your name and address off the medication label. This will help protect your privacy and personal information. “You should never flush expired medication down your toilet if you chose to dispose of them at home,” says Mrs. Dixon, as flushed medications can contaminate local waterways.
To dispose of your medications at home, make sure to mix the medications with cat litter, dirt or coffee grounds before you throw them away. This makes them undesirable to pets and children and unrecognizable to anyone who might look through garbage for drugs. Finally, place the mixture in a sealed bag with a little bit of water to make the medication unusable and throw it away.
“If you’re not sure of the best way to dispose of a certain medication, you can always call your pharmacist for help,” says Mrs. Dixon.
Taking control of your medication
Did you know that, with Geisinger Pharmacy, you can transfer, refill and manage your prescriptions online?
“Managing your medications is an important part of your healthcare,” says Mrs. Dixon. “Talk with your doctor about any questions you have about your current medications, how to best manage your refills and how to request a renewal if needed and if Geisinger Pharmacy might be right for you.”