What To Do If You Get Your Medications Through the USPS

mail package

Oscar Wong / Getty Images 

Key Takeaways

  • There has been an increase in the number of people using mail-order to get their prescription medications since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
  • The U.S. Postmaster General is delaying operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) until after the election in November. However, people are already experiencing mail delays, including medication deliveries.
  • Experts strongly advise against rationing medication. If you rely on the mail to get your medication, you can take steps to ensure you have enough—such as talking to your provider about short-supply prescriptions or switching to a local pharmacy.

Cost-cutting measures at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) have caused mail delays throughout the country. The delays come as a growing number of people in the U.S. are relying on the mail system to receive their prescription medications.

In a statement released on August 18, 2020, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said that he will pause any operational changes to the USPS (such as changing post office hours or removing mailboxes) until after the presidential election in November.

However, in some parts of the country, people are already experiencing mail delays. People who get their medications through the mail have taken to Twitter to talk about how they have been affected by the slow-down.

Mail-Order Pharmacy

Mail-order pharmacy services were originally intended to help people living in rural areas get their medications. While they still serve this purpose, the convenience and often cost-effectiveness of getting medications through the mail have also contributed to its growing popularity.

More recently, mail-order pharmacies have been serving the millions of Americans staying home to prevent the spread of coronavirus. According to data from IQVIA and Barclays, there was an uptick in mail-order prescriptions starting in March and April of this year—just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold.

How to Make Sure You Have Enough Medication

If you haven't experienced a slower-than-usual mail service, you might in the future. If you get your medications delivered by mail and you’re concerned about delays, experts say there are a few things you can do. 

Robert Weber, PharmD

I can’t stress the importance of a monthly review of your medications to assure for preventing any gaps.

— Robert Weber, PharmD

Call Your Provider

Talk to your healthcare provider about any mail-related medication concerns and discuss your options. It's also important that you ask your provider what you should do if your medication doesn't arrive on time or you run out.

"I can’t stress the importance of a monthly review of your medications to assure for preventing any gaps," Robert Weber, PharmD, pharmacy services administrator at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Verywell.

Look Into Short-Supply Prescriptions

Your provider might be able to write you a smaller prescription—for example, a 15 to a 30-day supply.

"If your medication is getting low and you rely on the mail for your prescription, your doctor is authorized to send a smaller prescription to your local pharmacy," Kathryn Boling, MD, a primary care physician at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center, tells Verywell.

Boling also says that having a stockpile of your medication on-hand, such as a 90-day supply, can help prevent shortages as you deal with mail delays.

Check with your health insurance company in advance to make sure that an alternative supply of your medication will be covered.

Switch to a Local Pharmacy

If you can get your medication through a pharmacy, it will reduce the mail-related concerns. Local pharmacists may also be able to solve mail-related problems.

Karl Fiebelkorn, MBA, RPh, senior associate dean at the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Buffalo, tells Verywell that if your medication arrives but comes late or appears damaged, it's worth talking to your local pharmacist. “Many times, they’ll try to help out," he says.

However, switching pharmacies is not a practical or possible option for everyone, such as people who live in rural communities with no access to public transportation, people who cannot drive, and people who are homebound. Some people are unable to use a different pharmacy because it does not carry their prescription.

Even if your medication is available and the pharmacy is accessible to you, amid COVID-19 social distancing protocols, you might be hesitant about physically going to pick up your prescriptions. Many pharmacies have drive-through windows or are offering curbside service that let you pick up your prescription without having to get out of your car.

Experts Advise Against Rationing Medication

If you're worried that your prescription won't arrive on time, you might be tempted to take fewer pills or try to space out your doses. However, experts say rationing your medication can have serious consequences.

“It’s not a good idea,” Fiebelkorn says. “Rationing will cause your disease state to get worse.”

Kathryn Boling, MD

If you’re taking medication for a chronic disease and you start rationing it, things that could be under control could get very much out of control.

— Kathryn Boling, MD

Boling explains how serious the risks of not taking your medication as prescribed can be.

"If you take blood pressure medication and space it out, your blood pressure could go very high and you could have a stroke or heart attack," she says. "If you take medication for your diabetes and ration it, your blood sugar could get too high and damage your kidneys."

Boling also stresses the importance of staying in communication with your medical team.

"If you’re taking medication for a chronic disease and you start rationing it, things that could be under control could get very much out of control," she says. "Call your doctor’s office. They should be able to help."

What This Means for You

Even though the USPS won't be making operational changes for a few more months, you might still experience mail delays. If you rely on the USPS to get your prescriptions, there are steps you can take to make sure that you don't run out of your medication, such as switching to a local pharmacy (most of which offer drive-thru or curbside pickup).

It's also important that you talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns. There might be other options for prescribing your medication, such as changing the supply.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. United States Postal Service (USPS), Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Statement - newsroom.

  2. Kruczek N. What is the role of the mail-order pharmacy? Pharmacy Times.

  3. Herman B. People are filling more prescriptions by mail amid coronavirus crisis. Axios.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.