Prescription Drugs vs OTCs: What is the Real Difference?

Prescription drugs and OTCs (over the counter medication) each have their place in a progressive, comprehensive, and effective healthcare system. Prescriptions bring to bear the expertise of a doctor on how a patient medicates their way to recovery; OTCs give a patient autonomy and allow their real needs to be assessed by the traditional metric of market demand. To take one example, the ubiquity of OTC hay fever medication is a direct market response to the needs of millions of allergic people who buy the product every summer. This in turn has driven up the supply and led to its wide availability, something a requirement of prescription would only hinder. 

So long as they can be guaranteed to be safe, it is ultimately better for drugs to be OTC. Less visits to a doctor is ultimately less strain on health services. And companies like Canada Pharmacy are invested in precisely this line of thinking – believing that an online pharmacy is entirely reliant on the right drugs being responsibly designated OTCs, and the mandate to source and supply them being given over to commercial enterprises.

Prescription Drugs and OTCs: Two Success Stories 

It is unsurprising then that OTC drug revenues have only grown in recent years. It is estimated now that 81% of adults in the U.S. use OTCs as their first line of treatment when dealing with a minor to moderate condition. That such a provision for patients to help themselves without increasing a doctor’s workload exists is ultimately a good thing. It is estimated that the average consumer will make twenty-three trips per year to buy OTCs, while they will only visit their doctor, on average, about three times a year. 

Yet despite that massive disparity between OTC purchases and doctor visits, prescription medication has also seen significant growth over the same period of time. The Wall Street Journal has predicted that prescription drug sales are expected to grow by 4.8% annually over the next few years. The figure already stands at nearly a thousand billion dollars. 

Accounting for this, fewer prescription drugs are coming off patent, which allows them to be sold solely as prescription products. There are also simply more drugs now available for conditions that previously lacked them.

Drug Safety

The biggest differences between these two types of drugs (beyond the obvious one that prescription drugs require a doctor and OTCs do not) is simply a matter of safety. Prescription drugs are so classified because they are tailored to a specific person and to be taken in a specific way. OTCs, on the other hand, are effectively mass-market products.  

There is also the issue of dosage. There are many examples of prescription drugs available as OTCs when they are sold in lower dosage units. This in fact represents one of the main ways in which otherwise heavily restricted prescription drugs can find their way onto the more commercially friendly OTC market. 

CFIA Classification

In Canada, what makes the difference between a prescription drug and OTC is the Food and Drugs Act, which outlines the criteria by which to classify drugs. Chief among these criteria (indeed the central factor which it revolves around) is whether or not supervision by a medical practitioner is necessary or not. 

In this way, whether or not a drug can be opened up to the mass commercial market is ultimately based upon its safety. And whatever factors ultimately effect what you can buy in the grocery store and what you need to see a doctor for, this will always be foremost among them.

Elijah Fox

River Elijah Fox

River Elijah Fox: River, a fitness influencer, shares home workout routines, fitness challenges, and nutrition tips to help followers lead a healthy lifestyle.