At TheHealthBoard, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Non-prescription medication, sometimes known as over-the-counter medication, differs from prescription medication in that it can be legally purchased and consumed without first obtaining a prescription from a health care professional. Medications that are available without a doctor's prescription are generally considered by the medical profession to be fairly benign. While they may be effective at treating certain symptoms and conditions, there is a low risk of severe side effects or overdose attached to non-prescription drugs. The types of drugs that are available without prescription can vary by jurisdiction, and legal restrictions on the purchase of these remedies may still be in place.
Many pharmaceutical companies produce non-prescription drugs that can treat common conditions and are available at retail outlets for purchase by anyone who has the money to afford them. In some cases, over-the-counter and prescription drugs may have similar mechanisms,and treat conditions in much the same way, but the prescription medication is offered at a higher potency or may have demonstrated a greater risk to users during its clinical trials. The drugs that pose a greater risk to the health and well-being of individual users as well as the general public are restricted by law to those who meet accepted medical standards for such treatment.
The availability of nonprescription drugs varies from place to place. For example, decongestants and cold medications containing pseudoephedrine are often subject to different restrictions in different states. Pseudoephedrine can be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, so many states restrict its purchase to people more than age 18, require that those who do buy the drug in non-prescription form provide retailers with photo identification, and may limit the quantities in which it can be purchased. Some states simply require individuals to obtain a doctor's prescription before buying medications containing pseudoephedrine.
The cost of prescription medication versus over-the-counter medication varies. For those who have medical insurance with a prescription drug plan, the cost of prescription drugs may not be significant, as their insurance covers the cost of their prescriptions. Non-prescription drugs can vary in cost and are typically not covered by insurance. The purchase of natural and homeopathic medication by consumers is typically not restricted by prescription laws, and consumers are generally free to purchase them as they wish. As with non-prescription drugs, the cost of herbal and homeopathic remedies is typically not borne by health insurance plans, which can make them less cost-effective than prescription drugs for insured consumers.