Prescription vs Over-the-Counter Drugs

Instructor: Rachel Torrens
Abbreviations abound in medicine! In this lesson, we'll explore the differences between OTC and Rx medications. In other words, we'll look at the differences between over-the-counter medications and those purchased with a prescription.

Purposes of Over-The-Counter Versus Prescription Preparations

Any shoe enthusiast will tell you there is a huge difference between a pair of mainstream, mass-produced flip flops and high-end, handmade Louboutin's. Likewise, a car aficionado would perhaps snub her nose at a generic Honda Civic, preferring a personalized Corvette with upgrades. But it is not necessarily true that the Louboutin's and the Corvette are superior. If you're heading to the beach for a day, inexpensive flip-flops may perfectly fit your needs. Similarly, if someone is looking for an affordable commuter car, then the Civic would be perfect. Thus, each type of shoe or car fits a specific situation.

The two types of medications we will examine today are similar to these shoes or cars; each has its own purpose. Over-the-counter medications, abbreviated with the acronym OTC, tend to be the ready-made, factory designed drugs. Prescription medications, often abbreviated with the symbol Rx, are more specific and personalized drugs.

Over-The-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter medications are those drugs which may be self-selected by a person and obtained from a store shelf. In this instance, it is the individual who diagnoses his own illness and selects the appropriate treatment.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications tend to be produced for the masses to consume safely; therefore, most OTC preparations are milder in strength then prescription medications. Furthermore, OTC medicines tend to be more generalized in order to help with a variety of ailments and enable multiple people in a household to use them. For example, ibuprofen can be bought to help Dad with a headache, Mom with a fever, and Sally with her menstrual cramps.

Lastly, OTC drugs are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but are subject to different rules then prescription medicines. OTC medicines must comply with federally mandated monographs which specify details regarding the drug: acceptable ingredients, labeling, and dosing.

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications are obtained by a person taking a prescription to a pharmacy and having it filled. In order to obtain a prescription, the individual must visit a healthcare provider who diagnoses an illness and prescribes the appropriate medicine to treat the condition.

Prescription medications are more 'tailor-made', engineered to target a very specific health condition. They are intended to be taken only by the person for whom they were prescribed. For example, if Johnny has strep throat and is prescribed an antibiotic, it is meant only for him to consume. Even if two days later his sister develops a sore throat and fever, it is not safe for her to take Johnny's prescribed antibiotics.

Lastly, prescription drugs are also regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but must go through the intense 'New Drug Application' process. This federally mandated procedure, which has many stipulations, ensures the safety and efficacy of new prescription drugs before they are brought to market.

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