“Why Can’t I Have My Prescription?”

What pharmacy patients should know when seeking pain medications

Written by De’Bora White and Bob Dávila of The California State Board of Pharmacy

“I have been on Norco for 10 years, and the pharmacist never questioned the prescription before.”

“Lately, the pharmacy never has my pain medication in stock and won’t let me get my refill a few days early. I feel they are discriminating against pain patients.”

A growing number of consumers are filing complaints like these with the California State Board of Pharmacy about difficulty getting pain medication prescriptions filled. Many prescription pain drugs contain opioids or other controlled substances, which are strictly regulated by state and federal laws.

Pharmacists are often the last line of defense in the battle against prescription drug abuse. Pharmacists must weigh their professional calling to serve patients against their obligation to prevent controlled substances from getting into the wrong hands.

Unfortunately, this means a pharmacist sometimes may delay or decline to fill a prescription for a painkiller – such as an opioid medication – or other controlled substance if the pharmacist has doubts that the prescription is legitimate.

A pharmacist’s obligation

Under California law, a pharmacist has a duty (known as a “corresponding responsibility”) to ensure a prescription is for a legitimate medical purpose and is not intended for abuse. The law requires pharmacists to use their professional judgment in determining whether a prescription is suspicious. To make that determination, a pharmacist may:

  • Contact your doctor or other prescriber to clarify or adjust a prescription.
  • Discuss with your prescriber other medications you are taking or other health care practitioners you are seeing.
  • Ask for documentation of your medical condition, diagnosis or treatment plan.
  • Consult medical reference materials regarding the dosing, indication or appropriateness of the prescribed medication.
  • Review your patient medication profile in a statewide database known as CURES that monitors controlled substances prescriptions issued to patients in California.

Tips to help get your prescription filled

The Board of Pharmacy cannot require a pharmacist who exercises professional judgment to fill a prescription. But there are some things you can do to make it easier to get your controlled substances prescriptions filled as quickly as possible:

  • Talk to your pharmacist. Establish and maintain a relationship with the pharmacy that fills your prescriptions. This relationship enables a pharmacy to better understand your needs so that the pharmacist can order and have your medications in stock when you need them.
  • Talk to your prescriber. Discuss your medication needs and contact your doctor or other prescriber if you have problems getting your prescription filled. Your pharmacist may also contact your prescriber. This relationship will make it easier for the pharmacist to validate your prescription.

The Board of Pharmacy is committed to protecting and promoting the health and safety of consumers through the highest quality of pharmacist care. If you have a concern about your experience with a pharmacy, you may file a complaint with the board online or in writing. For information, visit the board’s website at www.pharmacy.ca.gov.


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