Intended for healthcare professionals


Over the counter drugs

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 09 March 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:593
  1. James G Kennedy
  1. Senior lecturer in general practice Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London SW10 9NH

    Changing the roles of doctors and pharmacists

    People are buying more medications for themselves,1 and increasingly powerful drugs are obtainable without prescription.2 In view of these trends, it is timely to examine their implications for patients and health care professionals. A series of articles starting in this issue of the BMJ (p 629) examines the move towards greater over the counter access to drugs and its relation to increasing public awareness of health and medicines, the changing roles of doctors and pharmacists, pharmaceutical industry strategies, and the question of safety and abuse of drugs.2

    Over the counter (OTC) drugs are available to the public without prescription. They include traditional pharmacy preparations and drugs that have more recently been deregulated from their previous status as “prescription only medicines.” Policies on over the counter drugs vary around the world. In many European countries, over the counter drugs are available only through pharmacies,3 but in the United States, all over the counter drugs can be sold in general retail outlets. In Australia, pharmacists are required to personally advise purchasers of specific over the counter drugs.

    Britain and Ireland have two categories for over the counter drugs: drugs on the general sales list may be sold in general retail premises, while drugs in the pharmacy category are restricted to sale by registered pharmacies.2 This is supposed to ensure that pharmacists monitor patients and give advice on correct usage. However, this responsibility is frequently …

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