Over the Counter vs. Prescription Meds: A Look for Those in Pharmaceutical Training

Pharmaceutical Training
All kinds of medications are used to help relieve pain, prevent illnesses, manage diseases to avoid further complications, and much more. These medications typically fall into two categories: prescription (Rx) drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. 

There are many important differences between these two broad categories, which are important to regulatory affairs. Continue reading to explore the differences between both categories while gaining a brief look into some of Canada’s regulatory measures regarding Rx and OTC drugs.   

Knowing the difference between prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs is important

A Basic Overview of Over-the-Counter Drugs 

As you get ready to take online pharmaceutical courses, what are some important things to know about OTC drugs? Over-the-counter drugs are, as their name implies, easily accessible and can be bought right off the shelf. Because OTC drugs are not intended for a specific person, they can be purchased without a prescription or consultation—easily found in convenience stores, drugs stores, and supermarkets. OTC medications typically treat self-diagnosable conditions, with examples including:

  • Pain relievers (i.e. acetaminophen)
  • Cough medications (i.e. dextromethorphan or guaifensesin)
  • Antihistamines (i.e. chlorphenamine)
  • Decongestants (i.e. pseudoephedrine) 

OTC drugs are often weaker than prescription drugs, so there’s a less likely chance for them to be mishandled or misused. That said, it’s recommended for individuals to consult a medical professional prior to trying new OTC drugs, especially since some might cause allergies or adverse side effects when taken in conjunction with other prescription drugs. 

OTC drugs are easily accessible, often found in convenience stores, drug stores, and supermarkets

Prescription Drugs Explained for Students in Pharmaceutical Training

Unlike OTC drugs, prescription medications are not easily accessible. To purchase these drugs, an individual has to have a valid prescription from a physician or another licensed medical professional. Because prescription drugs are typically stronger than OTC drugs, they’re only intended to be used by a single person who needs to treat specific conditions. Some examples of prescription drugs include the following:

  • Drugs that have an analgesic or sedative effect (i.e. narcotics)
  •  Soporific drugs (commonly known as sleeping pills)
  • Drugs administered by injection (like Vicodin or Adderall) 
  • Drugs considered habit-forming 
  • Drugs considered unsafe for indiscriminate use by the public and necessitate medical supervision  

It should be noted that these drugs can cause different reactions depending on the individual, so regular monitoring by a prescriber can help ensure that the medication is working properly. Giving these drugs prescription status lowers the risk of others misusing the medicine, which could negatively impact their health. 

Prescription drugs require a valid prescription from a licensed medical professional

Regulating Prescription Drugs and Their Switch to OTC

Interestingly, some current OTC drugs were originally labelled as prescription drugs before they were reviewed and deemed safer for the general public. According to Health Canada, a medicinal ingredient can change its prescription status through a “full switch” (asking for full removal of prescription status) as well as through a “partial switch” (asking for conditions of use to be removed from prescription status). 

However, this would only occur when new information on the medicinal ingredient proves that it is safe and effective as OTC medicine— focusing on any changes in the conditions of use, along with existing experience and knowledge gathered on the medicinal ingredient in question. Your pharmaceutical training can help you understand how these regulatory systems, legislation, and practices function in relation to the development and quality of pharmaceutical goods.  

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