What's a pill count?

Neil Chatterjee, MD headshot

Medically reviewed by Neil Chatterjee, MD

Random pill counts are a common protocol that doctors use to ensure that the patient is using the correct drug at the correct intervals. If your doctor is conducting a pill count, it usually doesn't mean that the doctor has any reason to distrust you. It is increasingly standard--if not required--for providers to maintain some sort of random pill count.

So, how do they work?

  1. Before you begin treatment, your provider may ask you to sign a pain contract (also known as a controlled substance agreement or opioid contract). This document usually explains the practice's pill count procedure--read it if you haven't already! Your doctor is NOT required to have a contract before requesting a pill count, although it is generally a best practice.
  2. You may receive requests for a pill count randomly, at any time. Once notified by your provider, you will generally have 24-48 hours to bring in your medication to the office.
  3. Bring your medication(s) into your provider's office in their original bottle. This way, the doctor can match your bottle and pills with what they have in their records.

It is vital to keep your contact information up-to-date with your provider in case of a random pill count. If you don't respond to a request or never show up, your provider may refuse future prescriptions or even release you from their practice entirely! These policies vary widely from provider to provider, so it is always best to fully read any agreement you have signed, or just ask the office for more clarification.

Pill counts don't have to be scary, and for many patients they're increasingly the norm. Stay prepared and keep your phone number updated, and always ask your doctor what their precise expectations may be.

This post is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address any individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. When in doubt, speak to your doctor.

If you think you may be experiencing overdose or have any other medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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