Prescription Drugs vs Over The Counter Drugs: Which Is Right?

Prescription drugs vs Over The Counter Drugs

In today’s ever-changing healthcare environment, there are a variety of options available to manage health problems. Choosing between prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments is one of these choices that can make a big impact on your health.

In this blog, we will talk about one such topic. We will talk about how and when to choose OTC drugs and prescription drugs.

What are Drugs?

Drugs are substances that affect the body or mind of a person who consumes them. They can be used for different purposes, such as treating diseases, relieving pain, enhancing mood, or altering perception.

They are classified into various categories based on:

  1. Their chemical structure,
  2. Mechanism of action,
  3. Therapeutic use, or
  4. Potential for abuse.

Some of these are derived from natural sources, such as plants, animals, or fungi. These include herbal medicines, vitamins, hormones, antibiotics, and vaccines.

Others are synthesized in laboratories, such as aspirin, insulin, antidepressants, and chemotherapy agents.

They can be taken in different ways, depending on their physical and chemical properties and the desired effect. Some common routes of administration are:

  1. Oral (by mouth),
  2. Intravenous (by vein),
  3. Intramuscular (by muscle), and many others.

Drugs are regulated by laws and policies that aim to ensure their safety and prevent their misuse and abuse.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the agency responsible for approving and monitoring drugs for human use.

Some examples of OTC and prescription drugs


There are more than 80 classes of OTC drugs, ranging from acne medicines to weight loss products. Some common examples are:

  1. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB)
  2. Cough suppressants like dextromethorphan (Robitussin) and antihistamines like loratadine (Claritin 24H)
  3. Stomach acid blockers like famotidine (Pepcid AC) and proton-pump inhibitors like esomeprazole (Nexium 24HR)
  4. Anti-diarrheal medicines like loperamide (Imodium)
  5. Laxatives like polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX)
  6. Antifungal creams like clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF)
  7. Acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide (Differin Gel)

Some common examples of prescribed medicines are:

  1. Antibiotics like amoxicillin and ciprofloxacin
  2. Antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft)
  3. Blood pressure medicines like lisinopril and metoprolol
  4. Cholesterol-lowering drugs like atorvastatin (Lipitor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor)
  5. Diabetes medicines like metformin and insulin
  6. Opioid painkillers like oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  7. Birth control pills like ethinyl estradiol/norgestimate (Ortho Tri-Cyclen) and levonorgestrel/ethinyl estradiol (Alesse)

Prescription drugs vs Over The Counter Drugs

If you have ever experienced a headache, a cold, or an allergy, you may have used over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to relieve your symptoms.

Did you know that it was an over-the-counter medicine?

OTC are medicines that you can buy without a prescription from a doctor or a medical store. They are usually safe, effective, and easy to use for common conditions.

However, not all health problems can be treated with OTC.

Some conditions require prescription drugs, which are medicines that you can only get with a prescription from a doctor or other health care professional. These are often more potent, more specific, or more complex than OTC. They may also have more side effects or interactions with other substances.

So how do you know which type of drug is right for you?

Here are some factors to consider when choosing between OTC and prescription drugs.

Besides the fact that OTC can be bought without a prescription and prescription drugs cannot, there are some other differences between them, such as:

1. Safety.

OTC drugs are generally considered safe when used as directed on the label or as advised by a doctor. However, they can still cause side effects, interactions, allergic reactions, or overdoses if misused or abused.

Prescribed medicines are usually more potent than OTC drugs and have a higher risk of serious side effects, interactions, or abuse. Therefore, they require close monitoring by a doctor and should only be used as prescribed.

2. Effectiveness.

OTC are usually effective for mild to moderate symptoms or conditions that do not require medical diagnosis or supervision.

Prescribed medicines are usually more effective for severe, chronic, or complex conditions that require medical diagnosis or supervision.

3. Cost.

OTCs are usually cheaper because they do not require research and development costs, clinical trials, or FDA approval.

Prescribed medicines are usually more expensive because they require these costs and processes. However, some of these may be covered by insurance plans or patient assistance programs, which can lower the out-of-pocket cost for the patient.

4. Availability.

Non-prescription drugs are widely available in many retail outlets and online platforms.

Prescription drugs are only available from licensed pharmacies with a valid prescription from a doctor or other health care provider.

Things to consider when using OTC or prescription drugs

You should always:

  1. Read and follow the directions on the label or the prescription carefully.
  2. Check the expiration date.
  3. Store them in a cool, dry place away from children and pets.
  4. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before using any new drug, especially if you have any medical conditions, or allergies, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  5. Watch for any side effects, interactions, or signs of overdose and seek medical help if needed.

Both types of drugs can help you treat various conditions and improve your health. However, they have different characteristics, benefits, and risks that you should be aware of. By using them wisely and responsibly, you can get the most out of them and avoid any potential harm.

Also Read: What is Moringa Powder? 14 Benefits, Risks, Uses.

Common Health Conditions Caused by Drug Abuse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, medicine abuse can lead to addiction, overdose, and death. Some of the common health conditions caused by medicine abuse are:

1. Allergic Reactions.

Some medicines can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Symptoms can range widely, from minor skin rashes and itching to more severe reactions such as swelling of the face, tongue, or throat, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis. Any type of medication, including antibiotics, analgesics, and even herbal supplements, can trigger allergic reactions.

2. Gastrointestinal Issues.

Medicine abuse can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, ulcers, and bleeding in the digestive tract. Some medicines can also affect the liver and pancreas, causing inflammation, infection, or failure. Alcohol, acetaminophen, steroids, and NSAIDs are some of the medicines that can harm the gastrointestinal system.

3. Liver Damage.

Some medicines can overload or harm the liver cells, causing inflammation, scarring, or cirrhosis. Alcohol is one of the most common causes of liver damage.

4. Kidney Damage.

Medicine abuse can interfere with this function, causing kidney stones, infections, inflammation, or failure. Some of the medicines that can damage the kidneys include heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, NSAIDs, antibiotics, antivirals, and contrast agents. Long-term use or abuse of certain drugs can result in kidney damage or failure.

5. Heart problems.

Some pharmaceuticals, such as decongestants and weight loss pills, can increase blood pressure or heart rate, which can lead to heart problems such as high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat.

6. Respiratory problems.

Medicine abuse can impair the lungs’ ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, leading to breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, pneumonia, or lung collapse. Opioids can depress the respiratory center in the brain, causing slow or shallow breathing that can be fatal.

7. Neurological issues.

Medicine abuse can alter the brain’s structure and function, affecting memory, cognition, mood, behavior, and coordination. Some of the neurological effects of medicine abuse include seizures, strokes, brain damage, dementia, psychosis, depression, anxiety, and addiction.

8. Cardiovascular problems.

Many medicines can affect the heart and blood vessels, causing irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke. Medicine abuse can also damage the veins and arteries, especially when injected, increasing the risk of infection and blood clots.

9. Effects on Mental Health.

Some medications, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, can have adverse effects on mental health, including mood changes, increased anxiety, and even worsening of underlying mental health problems.


It is important to note that although these negative consequences are possible, not everyone will experience them. To reduce the risk of negative health problems, always seek medical advice before starting any new medication and follow their recommendations carefully.

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