March 4, 2020 – As the number of COVID-19 cases across the US steadily increases, concerned Americans are headed to the nearest grocery store to stock up on food and supplies. While you plan for emergencies, remember to include your prescription medications as an essential part of your preparedness routine. This blog explains how to use an emergency refill provision to refill your prescription before you are due for a refill, so that you can avoid heading to a pharmacy during an emergency.

While, normally, laws prohibit pharmacists from dispensing “early” refills, during emergencies states may choose to issue waivers (known as “refill-too-soon” waivers) on these prohibitions, thus allowing pharmacists to refill prescriptions early.

How can emergency prescription refill waivers help you?

An emergency refill allows you to refill your prescription before you are due for a refill, so that you can be fully stocked with your medications before an emergency, like the COVID-19 outbreak, arises.  

How do the “refill-too-soon” waivers work?

An emergency prescription refill waiver allows for the dispensing of a prescribed medication without the original prescribing doctor’s authorization. This means the pharmacists can provide an earlier refill if they deem the medication to be critical to saving the patient’s life or maintaining their treatment plan.

Who issues these waivers and how can you find out if they have been issued for your state?

State Boards of Pharmacy issue these refill waivers after a declaration of a public health emergency is issued by federal, state, or local government, such as the US Department of Health and Human Services or your governor.

  • Follow your local health department on social media to see if they post about the waiver.
  • Follow our team (@HC_Ready) and as we post these waivers when they are issued.
  • During emergencies, check our website ( for event-specific emergency prescription information.
  • Check your state Board of Pharmacy website.
  • Call your pharmacists and insurance providers to ask about emergency refills.

Are these laws the same in every state?

No, they vary. Depending on the state your pharmacy is in, the waivers may allow for emergency refills for a 48-hour supply, or all the way up to 90-day supply. Find the specific law for your state here.

What if my state doesn’t have an emergency refill waiver in place?

There are steps you can take to prepare your prescription medications, even if waivers are not in place. These include:

  • Stay up-to-date with your prescriptions, refilling them as soon as you are able. Refilling and picking up your prescriptions as soon as they’re available is an important strategy for making sure you have as much medication on hand as you’re able. Some insurers and pharmacies allow you to set up automatic refills, 90-day refills, or mail-order or delivery of prescription medications.
  • Talk to your provider and pharmacist about setting up an emergency plan that works for your treatment. These healthcare providers are the best source of information for options that may allow for early refills, such as vacation overrides or short-term refills such as 7-day emergency refills.
  • Contact your insurance provider to determine your options and the kind of assistance they provide. Call the number on the back of your insurance card and ask for information on exemptions that may be in place or could be put in place.

What if my prescription medication is a controlled substance?

If your prescription medication is a controlled substance, like many common painkillers and medications for mental health conditions, you should work with your prescriber on an emergency plan. Read more here on the complexities of dispensing controlled substances.

Use healthcare experts as your first source of information.

This blog is intended to explain how emergency refill waivers can help you during a disasters but should not replace medical advice from a qualified professional. Always check with your healthcare provider, pharmacist, and insurance provider first to determine a plan for upkeeping your health during a disaster. Check out our preparedness tip sheets for steps you can take today to prepare your health for disasters. Remember, your first source of information and support for your health should always be your healthcare providers.