Category:OTC Drugs

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Over-the-counter drugs, also called non-prescription drugs, are medications that consumers can purchase without a prescription. Some OTC drugs relieve symptoms of illnesses without claiming to cure them, and may fight discomfort or itching. Other OTC drugs can prevent or heal illnesses such as athlete's foot or tooth decay. These drugs are generally available from supermarkets, discount department stores like Target or Walmart, or from neighborhood pharmacies. OTC drugs include pain relievers, cough and cold medications, weight loss supplements, and allergy medications, among others.

Some medications are both sold over the counter and by prescription, with the OTC version typically containing a lower dosage. Likewise, some prescription drugs contain OTC ingredients combined with another, prescription-grade drug. For example, Vicodin® contains acetaminophen, found in common OTC drugs like Tylenol. However, it also contains the opioid oxycodone, so patients must have a prescription to purchase it. Vitamins and supplements, while also available over the counter, are not considered drugs.[1]



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Disclaimer The information provided by PharmacyDrugGuide is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Do not take any action based on the information on this page without consulting a physician.
Author Susan MacDowell


OTC Status

The prescription or OTC status of a drug is ultimately decided by the FDA. Typically, the decision is based on potential consumer risk. While over-the-counter medications are usually considered safe, they can still be dangerous in some situations. There is a chance of interaction with supplements or other medications, and even the safest drugs may cause issues for people with specific health conditions. Some over-the-counter medications may be hazardous to fetal development and should not be taken when pregnant. Other drugs, like Tylenol®, are virtually side-effect free but can cause serious harm or even be fatal if taken in too high a dosage. The active ingredient in Tylenol, acetaminophen, can cause severe liver damage, sometimes requiring transplants. Such overdoses typically occur when patients unknowingly consume multiple products containing acetaminophen, such as a pain reliever a cold medicine and an allergy drug.[2]

In some cases, prescriptions eventually make their way to drug store shelves. Allegra®, for example, was originally approved as a prescription-only allergy medication. However, the antihistamine earned OTC-status on on March 4, 2011. Consumers may now access most Allegra products without visiting a physician. Similarly, the prescription diet pill Xenical®, which contains the active ingredient orlistat, was brought to market before a reduced-potency version of the same drug, Alli®, became available over the counter.

Drug Side Effects

Like prescriptions, OTC drugs have potential side effects


Drugs Vs. Supplements

Some pills, liquids and other substances sold over the counter are classified as dietary supplements rather than drugs. Manufacturers are not permitted to claim these products treat, cure or prevent any particular illness, although such benefits may be implied. Vitamins and herbs typically fall under this category, and although they may have health benefits in some cases they have not been proven fit for medical use. Supplements are not well regulated, and many are labeled with claims not supported by clinical evidence. This is particularly true of weight-loss pills or other fad supplements, such as acai. Supplements may have side effects just as drugs do and, in some cases, side effects may be severe.[3]

Dietary supplements can cause potentially-dangerous reactions with certain medications, as well as other supplements. Some supplements actually do combat disease in the same way as drugs. For example, folic acid can prevent birth defects, and calcium and vitamin D can reduce the chances of developing osteoporosis.[4]



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