What is a Medical Prescription?


A prescription, often abbreviated ℞ or Rx, is a formal communication from a physician or other registered health-care professional to a pharmacist, authorising them to dispense a specific prescription drug for a specific patient.

Historically, it was a physician’s instruction to an apothecary listing the materials to be compounded into a treatment – the symbol ℞ (a capital letter R, crossed to indicate abbreviation) comes from the first word of a medieval prescription, Latin: Recipere (“Take thou”), that gave the list of the materials to be compounded.

Brief History

The idea of prescriptions dates back to the beginning of history. So long as there were medications and a writing system to capture directions for preparation and usage, there were prescriptions.

Modern prescriptions are actually extemporaneous prescriptions (from the Latin ex tempore, “at/from the time”), meaning that the prescription is written on the spot for a specific patient with a specific ailment. This is distinguished from a non-extemporaneous prescription that is a generic recipe for a general ailment. Modern prescriptions evolved with the separation of the role of the pharmacists from that of the physician. Today the term extemporaneous prescriptions is reserved for compound prescriptions that requires the pharmacist to mix or compound the medication in the pharmacy for the specific needs of the patient.

Predating modern legal definitions of a prescription, a prescription traditionally is composed of four parts: a superscription, inscription, subscription, and signature.

The superscription section contains the date of the prescription and patient information (name, address, age, etc.). The symbol “℞” separates the superscription from the inscriptions sections. In this arrangement of the prescription, the “℞” is a symbol for recipe or literally the imperative “take!” This is an exhortation to the pharmacist by the medical practitioner, “I want the patient to have the following medication” – in other words, “take the following components and compound this medication for the patient.”

The inscription section defines what is the medication. The inscription section is further composed of one or more of:

  • A basis or chief ingredient intended to cure (curare).
  • An adjuvant to assist its action and make it cure quickly (cito).
  • A corrective to prevent or lessen any undesirable effect (tuto).
  • A vehicle or excipient to make it suitable for administration and pleasant to the patient (jucunde).

The subscription section contains dispensing directions to the pharmacist. This may be compounding instructions or quantities.

The signature section contains directions to the patient and is often abbreviated “Sig.” or “Signa.” It also obviously contains the signature of the prescribing medical practitioner though the word signature has two distinct meanings here and the abbreviations are sometimes used to avoid confusion.

Thus sample prescriptions in modern textbooks are often presented as:

  • Rx: medication.
  • Disp.: dispensing instructions.
  • Sig.: patient instructions.

Format and Definition

For a communication to be accepted as a legal medical prescription, it needs to be filed by a qualified dentist, advanced practice nurse, physician or veterinarian, for whom the medication prescribed is within their scope of practice to prescribe. This is regardless of whether the prescription includes prescription drugs, controlled substances or over-the-counter treatments.

Prescriptions may be entered into an electronic medical record system and transmitted electronically to a pharmacy. Alternatively, a prescription may be handwritten on pre-printed prescription forms that have been assembled into pads, or printed onto similar forms using a computer printer or even on plain paper according to the circumstance. In some cases, a prescription may be transmitted from the physician to the pharmacist orally by telephone. The content of a prescription includes the name and address of the prescribing provider and any other legal requirement such as a registration number (e.g. DEA Number in the United States). Unique for each prescription is the name of the patient. In the United Kingdom and Ireland the patient’s name and address must also be recorded. Each prescription is dated and some jurisdictions may place a time limit on the prescription. In the past, prescriptions contained instructions for the pharmacist to use for compounding the pharmaceutical product but most prescriptions now specify pharmaceutical products that were manufactured and require little or no preparation by the pharmacist. Prescriptions also contain directions for the patient to follow when taking the drug. These directions are printed on the label of the pharmaceutical product.

The word “prescription”, from “pre-” (“before”) and “script” (“writing, written”), refers to the fact that the prescription is an order that must be written down before a drug can be dispensed. Those within the industry will often call prescriptions simply “scripts”.


Every prescription contains who prescribed the prescription, who the prescription is valid for, and what is prescribed. Some jurisdictions, drug types or patient groups require additional information as explained below.

Drug Equivalence and Non-Substitution

Many brand name drugs have cheaper generic drug substitutes that are therapeutically and biochemically equivalent. Prescriptions will also contain instructions on whether the prescriber will allow the pharmacist to substitute a generic version of the drug. This instruction is communicated in a number of ways. In some jurisdictions, the pre-printed prescription contains two signature lines: one line has “dispense as written” printed underneath; the other line has “substitution permitted” underneath. Some have a pre-printed box “dispense as written” for the prescriber to check off (but this is easily checked off by anyone with access to the prescription). In other jurisdictions, the protocol is for the prescriber to handwrite one of the following phrases: “dispense as written”, “DAW”, “brand necessary”, “do not substitute”, “no substitution”, “medically necessary”, “do not interchange”. In Britain’s National Health Service, doctors are reminded that money spent on branded rather than generic drugs is consequently not available for more deserving cases.

Prescriptions for Children

In some jurisdictions, it may be a legal requirement to include the age of child on the prescription. For paediatric prescriptions some advise the inclusion of the age of the child if the patient is less than twelve and the age and months if less than five. In general, including the age on the prescription is helpful, and adding the weight of the child is also helpful.

Label and Instructions

Prescriptions in the USA often have a “label” box. When checked, the pharmacist is instructed to label the medication and provide information about the prescription itself is given in addition to instructions on taking the medication. Otherwise, the patient is simply given the instructions. Some prescribers further inform the patient and pharmacist by providing the indication for the medication; i.e. what is being treated. This assists the pharmacist in checking for errors as many common medications can be used for multiple medical conditions. Some prescriptions will specify whether and how many “repeats” or “refills” are allowed; that is whether the patient may obtain more of the same medication without getting a new prescription from the medical practitioner. Regulations may restrict some types of drugs from being refilled.

Writing Prescriptions

Legal Capacity to Write Prescriptions

National or local (i.e. US state or Canadian provincial) legislation governs who can write a prescription. In the United States, physicians (either M.D., D.O. or D.P.M.) have the broadest prescriptive authority. All 50 US states and the District of Columbia allow licensed certified Physician Assistants (PAs) prescription authority (with some states, limitations exist to controlled substances). All 50 US states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam allow registered certified nurse practitioners and other advanced practice registered nurses (such as certified nurse-midwives) prescription power (with some states including limitations to controlled substances). Many other healthcare professions also have prescriptive authority related to their area of practice. Veterinarians and dentists have prescribing power in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. Clinical pharmacists are allowed to prescribe in some US states through the use of a drug formulary or collaboration agreements. Florida pharmacists can write prescriptions for a limited set of drugs. In all US states, optometrists prescribe medications to treat certain eye diseases, and also issue spectacle and contact lens prescriptions for corrective eyewear. Several US states have passed RxP legislation, allowing clinical psychologists who are registered as medical psychologists and have also undergone specialised training in script-writing, to prescribe drugs to treat emotional and mental disorders.

In August 2013, legislative changes in the UK allowed physiotherapists and podiatrists to have independent prescribing rights for licensed medicines that are used to treat conditions within their own area of expertise and competence. In 2018 this was extended to paramedics.

Standing Orders

Some jurisdictions allow certain physicians (sometimes a government official like the state Secretary of Health, sometimes physicians in local clinics or pharmacies) to write “standing orders” that act like a prescription for everyone in the general public. These orders also provide a standard procedure for determining if administration is necessary and details of how it is to be performed safely. These are typically used to authorise certain people to perform preventive, low-risk, or emergency care that would be otherwise logistically cumbersome to authorise for individual patients, including vaccinations, prevention of cavities, birth control, treatment of infectious diseases, and reversal of drug overdoses.

Legibility of Handwritten Prescriptions

Doctors’ handwriting is a reference to the stereotypically illegible handwriting of some medical practitioners, which sometimes causes errors in dispensing. In the US, illegible handwriting has been indirectly responsible for at least 7,000 deaths annually.

There are several theories about the causes of this phenomenon. Some sources say the extreme amount of writing doctors employ during training and at work leads to bad handwriting, whereas others claim that doctors neglect proper handwriting due to medical documents being intended to be read solely by medical professionals, not patients. Others simply classify the handwriting of doctors as a handwriting style. The issue may also have a historical origin, as physicians from Europe-influenced schools have historically used Latin words and abbreviations to convey prescriptions; many of the abbreviations are still widely used in the modern day and could be a source of confusion.

Some jurisdictions have legislatively required prescriptions to be legible – Florida, US specifies “legibly printed or typed” – and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices advocated the elimination of handwritten prescriptions altogether. There have been numerous devices designed to electronically read the handwriting of doctors, including electronic character recognition, keyword spotters, and “postprocessing approaches,” though the gradual shift to electronic health records and electronic prescriptions may alleviate the need for handwritten prescriptions altogether. In Britain’s NHS, remaining paper prescriptions are almost invariably computer printed and electronic (rather than paper) communication between surgery and pharmacy is increasingly the norm.

Conventions for Avoiding Ambiguity

Over the years, prescribers have developed many conventions for prescription-writing, with the goal of avoiding ambiguities or misinterpretation. These include:

  • Careful use of decimal points to avoid ambiguity:
    • Avoiding unnecessary decimal points and trailing zeros, e.g. 5 mL rather than 5.0 mL, 0.5 rather than .50 or 0.50, to avoid possible misinterpretation as 50.
    • Always using leading zeros on decimal numbers less than 1: e.g. 0.5 rather than .5 to avoid misinterpretation as 5.
  • Directions written out in full in English (although some common Latin abbreviations are listed below).
  • Quantities given directly or implied by the frequency and duration of the directions.
  • Where the directions are “as needed”, the quantity should always be specified.
  • Where possible, usage directions should specify times (7 am, 3 pm, 11 pm) rather than simply frequency (three times a day) and especially relationship to meals for orally consumed medication.
  • The use of permanent ink.
  • Avoiding units such as “teaspoons” or “tablespoons”.
  • Writing out numbers as words and numerals (“dispense #30 (thirty)”) as in a bank draft or cheque.
  • The use of the apothecaries’ system or avoirdupois units and symbols of measure – pints (O), ounces (℥), drams (ℨ), scruples (℈), grains (gr), and minims (♏︎) – is discouraged given the potential for confusion. For example, the abbreviation for a grain (“gr”) can be confused with the gram, abbreviated g, and the symbol for minims (♏︎), which looks almost identical to an ‘m’, can be confused with micrograms or metres. Also, the symbols for ounce (℥) and dram (ℨ) can easily be confused with the numeral ‘3’, and the symbol for pint (O) can be easily read as a ‘0’. Given the potential for errors, metric equivalents should always be used.
  • The degree symbol (°), which is commonly used as an abbreviation for hours (e.g., “q 2-4°” for every 2-4 hours), should not be used, since it can be confused with a ‘0’ (zero). Further, the use of the degree symbol for primary, secondary, and tertiary (1°, 2°, and 3°) is discouraged, since the former could be confused with quantities (i.e. 10, 20 and 30, respectively).
  • Micrograms are abbreviated mcg rather than µg (which, if handwritten, could easily be mistaken for mg (milligrams). Even so, pharmacists must be on the alert for inadvertent over- or under-prescribing through a momentary lapse of concentration.


Many abbreviations are derived from Latin phrases. Hospital pharmacies have more abbreviations, some specific to the hospital. Different jurisdictions follow different conventions on what is abbreviated or not. Prescriptions that do not follow area conventions may be flagged as possible forgeries.

Some abbreviations that are ambiguous, or that in their written form might be confused with something else, are not recommended and should be avoided. These are flagged in the table in the main article. However, all abbreviations carry an increased risk for confusion and misinterpretation and should be used cautiously.

Non-Prescription Drug Prescriptions

Over-the-counter medications and non-controlled medical supplies such as dressings, which do not require a prescription, may also be prescribed. Depending upon a jurisdiction’s medical system, non-prescription drugs may be prescribed because drug benefit plans may reimburse the patient only if the over-the-counter medication is taken at the direction of a qualified medical practitioner. In the countries of the UK, National Health Service (NHS) prescriptions are either free or have a fixed price per item; a prescription may be issued so the patient does not have to purchase the item at commercial price.

Some medical software requires a prescription.

Legislation may define certain equipment as “prescription devices”. Such prescription devices can only be used under the supervision of authorised personnel and such authorisation is typically documented using a prescription. Examples of prescription devices include dental cement (for affixing braces to tooth surfaces), various prostheses, gut sutures, sickle cell tests, cervical cap and ultrasound monitor.

In some jurisdictions, hypodermic syringes are in a special class of their own, regulated as illicit drug use accessories separate from regular medical legislation. Such legislation often allows syringes to be dispensed only with a prescription.

Use of Technology

As a prescription is nothing more than information among a prescriber, pharmacist and patient, information technology can be applied to it. Existing information technology is adequate to print out prescriptions. Hospital information systems in some hospitals do away with prescriptions within the hospital. There are proposals to securely transmit the prescription from the prescriber to the pharmacist using smartcard or the internet. In the UK a project called the Electronic Transfer of Prescriptions (ETP) within the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) is currently piloting such a scheme between prescribers and pharmacies.

Within computerised pharmacies, the information on paper prescriptions is recorded into a database. Afterwards, the paper prescription is archived for storage and legal reasons.

A pharmacy chain is often linked together through corporate headquarters with computer networking. A person who has a prescription filled at one branch can get a refill of that prescription at any other store in the chain, as well as have their information available for new prescriptions at any branch.

Some online pharmacies also offer services to customers over the internet, allowing users to specify the store that they will pick up the medicine from.

Many pharmacies now offer services to ship prescription refills right to the patient’s home. They also offer mail service where you can mail in a new, original prescription and a signed document, and they will ship the filled prescription back to you.

Pharmacy information systems are a potential source of valuable information for pharmaceutical companies as it contains information about the prescriber’s prescribing habits. Prescription data mining of such data is a developing, specialised field.

Many prescribers lack the digitised information systems that reduce prescribing errors. To reduce these errors, some investigators have developed modified prescription forms that prompt the prescriber to provide all the desired elements of a good prescription. The modified forms also contain predefined choices such as common quantities, units and frequencies that the prescriber may circle rather than write out. Such forms are thought to reduce errors, especially omission and handwriting errors and are actively under evaluation.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_prescription >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What is a Prescription Drug?


A prescription drug (also prescription medication or prescription medicine) is a pharmaceutical drug that legally requires a medical prescription to be dispensed. In contrast, over-the-counter drugs can be obtained without a prescription. The reason for this difference in substance control is the potential scope of misuse, from drug abuse to practicing medicine without a license and without sufficient education. Different jurisdictions have different definitions of what constitutes a prescription drug.

In North America, ℞, usually printed as “Rx”, is used as an abbreviation of the word “prescription”. It is a contraction of the Latin word “recipe” (an imperative form of “recipere”) meaning “take”. Prescription drugs are often dispensed together with a monograph (in Europe, a Patient Information Leaflet or PIL) that gives detailed information about the drug.

The use of prescription drugs has been increasing since the 1960s.



In Australia, the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons (SUSMP) governs the manufacture and supply of drugs with several categories:

  • Schedule 1 – Defunct Drug.
  • Schedule 2 – Pharmacy Medicine.
  • Schedule 3 – Pharmacist-Only Medicine.
  • Schedule 4 – Prescription-Only Medicine/Prescription Animal Remedy.
  • Schedule 5 – Caution/Poison.
  • Schedule 6 – Poison.
  • Schedule 7 – Dangerous Poison.
  • Schedule 8 – Controlled Drug (Possession without authority illegal).
  • Schedule 9 – Prohibited Substance (Possession illegal without a license legal only for research purposes).
  • Schedule 10 – Controlled Poison.
  • Unscheduled Substances.

As in other developed countries, the person requiring a prescription drug attends the clinic of a qualified health practitioner, such as a physician, who may write the prescription for the required drug.

Many prescriptions issued by health practitioners in Australia are covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, a scheme that provides subsidised prescription drugs to residents of Australia to ensure that all Australians have affordable and reliable access to a wide range of necessary medicines. When purchasing a drug under the PBS, the consumer pays no more than the patient co-payment contribution, which, as of 01 January 2022, is A$42.50 for general patients. Those covered by government entitlements (low-income earners, welfare recipients, Health Care Card holders, etc.) and or under the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) have a reduced co-payment, which is A$6.80 in 2022. The co-payments are compulsory and can be discounted by pharmacies up to a maximum of A$1.00 at cost to the pharmacy.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the Medicines Act 1968 and the Prescription Only Medicines (Human Use) Order 1997 contain regulations that cover the supply of sale, use, prescribing and production of medicines. There are three categories of medicine:

  • Prescription-only medicines (POM), which may be dispensed (sold in the case of a private prescription) by a pharmacist only to those to whom they have been prescribed.
  • Pharmacy medicines (P), which may be sold by a pharmacist without a prescription.
  • General sales list (GSL) medicines, which may be sold without a prescription in any shop.

The possession of a prescription-only medicine without a prescription is legal unless it is covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

A patient visits a medical practitioner or dentist, who may prescribe drugs and certain other medical items, such as blood glucose-testing equipment for diabetics. Also, qualified and experienced nurses and pharmacists may be independent prescribers. Both may prescribe all POMs (including controlled drugs), but may not prescribe Schedule 1 controlled drugs, and 3 listed controlled drugs for the treatment of addiction; which is similar to doctors, who require a special license from the Home Office to prescribe schedule 1 drugs. Schedule 1 drugs have little or no medical benefit, hence their limitations on prescribing. District nurses and health visitors have had limited prescribing rights since the mid-1990s; until then, prescriptions for dressings and simple medicines had to be signed by a doctor. Once issued, a prescription is taken by the patient to a pharmacy, which dispenses the medicine.

Most prescriptions are NHS prescriptions, subject to a standard charge that is unrelated to what is dispensed. The NHS prescription fee was increased to £9.15 per item in England on 01 April 2020; prescriptions are free of charge if prescribed and dispensed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for some patients in England, such as inpatients, children, those over 60s or with certain medical conditions, and claimants of certain benefits. The pharmacy charges the NHS the actual cost of the medicine, which may vary from a few pence to hundreds of pounds. A patient can consolidate prescription charges by using a prescription payment certificate (informally a “season ticket”), effectively capping costs at £29.60 per quarter or £105.90 per year.

Outside the NHS, private prescriptions are issued by private medical practitioner and sometimes under the NHS for medicines that are not covered by the NHS. A patient pays the pharmacy the normal price for medicine prescribed outside the NHS.

Survey results published by Ipsos MORI in 2008 found that around 800,000 people in England were not collecting prescriptions or getting them dispensed because of the cost, the same as in 2001.

United States

In the United States, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act defines what substances require a prescription for them to be dispensed by a pharmacy. The federal government authorises physicians (of any specialty), physician assistants, nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses, veterinarians, dentists, and optometrists to prescribe any controlled substance. They are then issued unique DEA numbers; many other mental and physical health technicians, including basic-level registered nurses, medical assistants, emergency medical technicians, most psychologists, and social workers, for example, do not have the authority to prescribe any legend drugs or controlled drugs. Legend drugs are another name for drugs requiring a prescription.

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was enacted into law by the US Congress of the United States in 1970. It is the federal drug law that regulates manufacture, importation, possession, use, and distribution of controlled substances. The legislation classes these substances into five schedules, with varying qualifications for each schedule. The schedules are designated schedule I, schedule II, schedule III, schedule IV, and schedule V. Many drugs require a prescription, even though they are not a controlled substance.

The safety and the effectiveness of prescription drugs in the US are regulated by the 1987 Prescription Drug Marketing Act (PDMA). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with implementing the law.

Misuse or abuse of prescription drugs can lead to adverse drug events, including those due to dangerous drug interactions.

The package insert for a prescription drug contains information about the intended effect of the drug and how it works in the body. It also contains information about side effects, how a patient should take the drug, and cautions for its use, including warnings about allergies.

As a general rule, over-the-counter drugs (OTC) are used to treat a condition that does not need care from a healthcare professional if have been proven to meet higher safety standards for self-medication by patients. Often, a lower strength of a drug will be approved for OTC use, but higher strengths require a prescription to be obtained; a notable case is ibuprofen, which has been widely available as an OTC pain killer since the mid-1980s, but it is available by prescription in doses up to four times the OTC dose for severe pain that is not adequately controlled by the OTC strength.

Herbal preparations, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and other food supplements are regulated by the FDA as dietary supplements. Because specific health claims cannot be made, the consumer must make informed decisions when purchasing such products.

By law, American pharmacies operated by “membership clubs” such as Costco and Sam’s Club must allow non-members to use their pharmacy services and may not charge more for these services than they charge as their members.

Physicians may legally prescribe drugs for uses other than those specified in the FDA approval, known as off-label use. Drug companies, however, are prohibited from marketing their drugs for off-label uses.

Large US retailers that operate pharmacies and pharmacy chains use inexpensive generic drugs as a way to attract customers into stores. Several chains, including Walmart, Kroger (including subsidiaries such as Dillons), Target, and others, offer $4 monthly prescriptions on select generic drugs as a customer draw. Publix Supermarkets, which has pharmacies in many of their stores, offered free prescriptions on a few older but still effective medications to their customers, the programme ended in 2022. The maximum supply is for 30 days.

Some prescription drugs are commonly abused, particularly those marketed as analgesics, including fentanyl (Duragesic), hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), oxymorphone (Opana), propoxyphene (Darvon), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), and diphenoxylate (Lomotil).

Some prescription painkillers have been found to be addictive, and unintentional poisoning deaths in the United States have skyrocketed since the 1990s according to the National Safety Council. Prescriber education guidelines as well as patient education, prescription drug monitoring programs and regulation of pain clinics are regulatory tactics which have been used to curtail opioid use and misuse.

Expiration Date

The expiration date, required in several countries, specifies the date up to which the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of a drug. In the United States, expiration dates are determined by regulations established by the FDA. The FDA advises consumers not to use products after their expiration dates.

A study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration covered over 100 drugs, prescription and over-the-counter. The results showed that about 90% of them were safe and effective far past their original expiration date. At least one drug worked 15 years after its expiration date. Joel Davis, a former FDA expiration-date compliance chief, said that with a handful of exceptions – notably nitroglycerin, insulin, some liquid antibiotics; outdated tetracyclines can cause Fanconi syndrome – most expired drugs are probably effective.

The American Medical Association (AMA) issued a report and statement on Pharmaceutical Expiration Dates. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide notes that, with rare exceptions, “it’s true the effectiveness of a drug may decrease over time, but much of the original potency still remains even a decade after the expiration date”.

The expiration date is the final day that the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of a medication. Drug expiration dates exist on most medication labels, including prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) and dietary (herbal) supplements. US pharmaceutical manufacturers are required by law to place expiration dates on prescription products prior to marketing. For legal and liability reasons, manufacturers will not make recommendations about the stability of drugs past the original expiration date.


Prices for prescription drugs vary widely around the world. Prescription costs for biosimilar and generic drugs are usually less than brand names, but the cost is different from one pharmacy to another.

Prescription drug prices including generic prices are rising faster than the average rate of inflation. To lower prescription drug costs, some US patients buy medicine in Canada or online.

Generics undergo strict scrutiny to meet the equal efficacy, safety, dosage, strength, stability, and quality of brand name drugs. Generics are developed after the brand name has already been established, and so generic drug approval in many aspects has a shortened approval process because it replicates the brand name drug.

Brand name drugs cost more due to time, money, and resources that drug companies invest in in order to repeat research clinical trials that the FDA requires for the drug to remain in the market. Because drug companies have to invest more in research costs to do this, brand name drug prices are much higher when sold to consumers.

When the patent expires for a brand name drug, generic versions of that drug are produced by other companies and are sold for lower price. By switching to generic prescription drugs, patients can save significant amounts of money: e.g. one study by the FDA showed an example with more than 50% savings of a patient’s overall costs of their prescription drugs.

Drug Cost Containment Strategies in the US

In the United States there are many resources available to patients to lower the costs of medication. These include co-payments, coinsurance, and deductibles. The Medicaid Drug Rebate Programme is another example.

Generic drug programs lower the amount of money patients have to pay when picking up their prescription at the pharmacy. As their name implies, they only cover generic drugs.

Co-pay assistance programmes are programmes that help patients lower the costs of specialty medications; i.e., medications that are on restricted formularies, have limited distribution, and/or have no generic version available. These medications can include drugs for HIV, hepatitis C, and multiple sclerosis. Patient Assistance Programme Centre (RxAssist) has a list of foundations that provide co-pay assistance programmes. It is important to note that co-pay assistance programmes are for under-insured patients. Patients without insurance are not eligible for this resource; however, they may be eligible for patient assistance programmes.

Patient assistance programmes are funded by the manufacturer of the medication. Patients can often apply to these programs through the manufacturer’s website. This type of assistance programme is one of the few options available to uninsured patients.

The out-of-pocket cost for patients enrolled in co-pay assistance or patient assistance programmes is $0. It is a major resource to help lower costs of medications – however, many providers and patients are not aware of these resources.


Traces of prescription drugs – including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilisers and sex hormones – have been detected in drinking water. Pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs) discarded from human therapy and their metabolites have been found to not be eliminated by sewage treatment plants and have been found at low concentrations in surface waters downstream from those plants. The continuous discarding of incompletely treated water may interact with other environmental chemicals and lead to uncertain ecological effects. Due to most pharmaceuticals being highly soluble, fish and other aquatic organisms are susceptible to their effects. The long term effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment may affect survival and reproduction of such organisms. However, levels of medical drug waste in the water is at a low enough level that it is not a direct concern to human health. However, processes, such as biomagnification, are potential human health concerns.

On the other hand, there is clear evidence of harm to aquatic animals and fauna. Recent advancements in technology have allowed scientists to detect smaller, trace quantities of pharmaceuticals in the ng/ml range. Despite being found such low concentrations, female hormonal contraceptives have been documented to cause feminising effects on male vertebrate species, such as fish, frogs and crocodiles. A promising model has been developed to further study the effects on the aquatic environment. The biological read across model combines the concepts of the mechanism of action (MoA) and adverse outcomes pathway (AOP). In other words, the species being studied needs to have similar mechanisms by which the pharmaceutical acts on the species and reach similar concentrations that would be enough to cause an effect in humans. Studying these relations may give us more quantifiable information on the effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Currently, research is being done on various methods of reducing chemical waste in the environment. In addition, FDA established guidelines in 2007 to inform consumers should dispose of prescription drugs. When medications do not include specific disposal instructions, patients should not flush medications in the toilet, but instead use medication take-back programmes. This aims to reduce the amount of pharmaceutical waste that gets into sewage and landfills. If no take-back programs are available, prescription drugs can be discarded in household trash after they are crushed and/or dissolved and then mixed in a separate container or sealable bag with undesirable substances like cat litter or other unappealing material (to discourage consumption).

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prescription_drug >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What is the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines?


The WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (aka Essential Medicines List or EML), published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), contains the medications considered to be most effective and safe to meet the most important needs in a health system.

The list is frequently used by countries to help develop their own local lists of essential medicines. As of 2016, more than 155 countries have created national lists of essential medicines based on the WHO’s model list. This includes countries in both the developed and developing world.

40 years of the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines was celebrated in 2017.

The list is divided into core items and complementary items. The core items are deemed to be the most cost-effective options for key health problems and are usable with little additional health care resources. The complementary items either require additional infrastructure such as specially trained health care providers or diagnostic equipment or have a lower cost–benefit ratio. About 25% of items are in the complementary list. Some medications are listed as both core and complementary. While most medications on the list are available as generic products, being under patent does not preclude inclusion.

The first list was published in 1977 and included 208 medications. The WHO updates the list every two years. The 14th list was published in 2005 and contained 306 medications. In 2015, the 19th edition of the list was published and contains around 410 medications. The 20th edition was published in 2017, and contains 433 medications. The 21st list was published in 2019 and contains 460 medications. The 22nd list was published in 2021 and contains 479 medications. Various national lists contain between 334 and 580 medications.

A separate list for children up to 12 years of age, known as the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines for Children (EMLc), was created in 2007 and is in its 8th edition. It was created to make sure that the needs of children were systematically considered such as availability of proper formulations. Everything in the children’s list is also included in the main list. The list and notes are based on the 19th to 22nd edition of the main list. An α indicates a medicine is only on the complementary list. Therapeutic alternatives with similar clinical performance are listed for some medicines and they may be considered for national essential medicines lists.

Anaesthetics, Preoperative Medicines and Medical Gases

  • General anaesthetics and oxygen:
    • Inhalational medicines.
      • Halothane.
      • Isoflurane.
      • Nitrous oxide.
      • Oxygen.
    • Injectable medicines.
      • Ketamine.
      • Propofol.
  • Local anaesthetics:
    • Bupivacaine.
    • Lidocaine.
    • Lidocaine/epinephrine (lidocaine + epinephrine).
    • Ephedrineα.
  • Preoperative medication and sedation for short-term procedures:
    • Atropine
    • Midazolam
    • Morphine
  • Medical gases:
    • Oxygen.

Medicines for Pain and Palliative Care

  • Non-opioids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIMs):
    • Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin).
    • Ibuprofen.
    • Paracetamol.
  • Opioid analgesics:
    • Codeine.
    • Fentanyl.
    • Morphine.
    • Methadoneα.
  • Medicines for other common symptoms in palliative care:
    • Amitriptyline.
    • Cyclizine.
    • Dexamethasone.
    • Diazepam.
    • Docusate sodium.
    • Fluoxetine.
    • Haloperidol.
    • Hyoscine butylbromide.
    • Hyoscine hydrobromide.
    • Lactulose.
    • Loperamide.
    • Metoclopramide.
    • Midazolam.
    • Ondansetron.
    • Senna.

Antiallergics and Medicines used in Anaphylaxis

  • Dexamethasone.
  • Epinephrine (adrenaline).
  • Hydrocortisone.
  • Loratadine.
  • Prednisolone.

Antidotes and Other Substances used in Poisonings

  • Non-specific:
    • Charcoal, activated.
  • Specific.
    • Acetylcysteine.
    • Atropine.
    • Calcium gluconate.
    • Methylthioninium chloride (methylene blue).
    • Naloxone.
    • Penicillamine.
    • Prussian blue.
    • Sodium nitrite.
    • Sodium thiosulfate.
    • Deferoxamineα.
    • Dimercaprolα.
    • Fomepizoleα.
    • Sodium calcium edetateα.
    • Succimerα.


Anti-Infective Medicines

  • Anthelminthics:
    • Intestinal anthelminthics.
      • Albendazole.
      • Ivermectin.
      • Levamisole.
      • Mebendazole.
      • Niclosamide.
      • Praziquantel.
      • Pyrantel.
    • Antifilarials.
      • Albendazole.
      • Diethylcarbamazine.
      • Ivermectin.
    • Antischistosomals and other antinematode medicines.
      • Praziquantel.
      • Triclabendazole.
      • Oxamniquineα.
    • Cysticidal medicines.
      • Albendazoleα.
      • Mebendazoleα.
      • Praziquantelα.
  • Antibacterials:
    • Access group antibiotics.
      • Amikacin
      • Amoxicillin.
      • Amoxicillin/clavulanic acid (amoxicillin + clavulanic acid).
      • Ampicillin.
      • Benzathine benzylpenicillin.
      • Benzylpenicillin.
      • Cefalexin.
      • Cefazolin.
      • Chloramphenicol.
      • Clindamycin.
      • Cloxacillin.
      • Doxycycline.
      • Gentamicin.
      • Metronidazole.
      • Nitrofurantoin.
      • Phenoxymethylpenicillin (penicillin V).
      • Procaine benzylpenicillin.
      • Spectinomycin.
      • Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (sulfamethoxazole + trimethoprim).
      • Trimethoprim.
    • Watch group antibiotics.
      • Azithromycin.
      • Cefixime.
      • Cefotaxime.
      • Ceftriaxone.
      • Cefuroxime.
      • Ciprofloxacin.
      • Clarithromycin.
      • Piperacillin/tazobactam (piperacillin + tazobactam).
      • Vancomycin.
      • Ceftazidimeα.
      • Meropenemα.
      • Vancomycinα.
    • Reserve group antibiotics.
      • Cefiderocolα.
      • Ceftazidime/avibactam (ceftazidime + avibactam)α.
      • Colistinα.
      • Fosfomycinα.
      • Linezolidα.
      • Meropenem/vaborbactam (meropenem + vaborbactam)α.
      • Plazomicinα.
      • Polymyxin Bα.
    • Antileprosy medicines.
      • Clofazimine.
      • Dapsone.
      • Rifampicin.
    • Antituberculosis medicines.
      • Ethambutol.
      • Ethambutol/isoniazid/pyrazinamide/rifampicin (ethambutol + isoniazid + pyrazinamide + rifampicin).
      • Ethambutol/isoniazid/rifampicin (ethambutol + isoniazid + rifampicin).
      • Isoniazid.
      • Isoniazid/pyrazinamide/rifampicin (isoniazid + pyrazinamide + rifampicin).
      • Isoniazid/rifampicin (isoniazid + rifampicin).
      • Isoniazid/rifapentine (isoniazid + rifapentine).
      • Moxifloxacin.
      • Pyrazinamide.
      • Rifabutin.
      • Rifampicin.
      • Rifapentine.
      • Amikacinα.
      • Amoxicillin/clavulanic acid (amoxicillin + clavulanic acid)α.
      • Bedaquilineα.
      • Clofazimineα.
      • Cycloserineα.
      • Delamanidα.
      • Ethionamideα.
      • Levofloxacinα.
      • Linezolidα.
      • Meropenemα.
      • Moxifloxacinα.
      • P-aminosalicylic acidα.
      • Streptomycinα.
  • Antifungal medicines.
    • Amphotericin B.
    • Clotrimazole.
    • Fluconazole.
    • Flucytosine.
    • Griseofulvin.
    • Itraconazole.
    • Nystatin.
    • Voriconazole.
    • Micafunginα.
    • Potassium iodideα.
  • Antiviral medicines
    • Antiherpes medicines.
      • Aciclovir.
    • Antiretrovirals.
    • Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors.
      • Abacavir.
      • Lamivudine.
      • Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.
      • Zidovudine.
    • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors.
      • Efavirenz.
      • [[Nevirapine].
    • Protease inhibitors.
      • Atazanavir/ritonavir (atazanavir + ritonavir).
      • Darunavir.
      • Lopinavir/ritonavir (lopinavir + ritonavir).
      • Ritonavir.
    • Integrase inhibitors.
      • Dolutegravir.
      • Raltegravir.
    • Fixed-dose combinations of antiretroviral medicines.
      • Abacavir/lamivudine (abacavir + lamivudine).
      • Dolutegravir/lamivudine/tenofovir (dolutegravir + lamivudine + tenofovir.
      • Efavirenz/emtricitabine/tenofovir.
      • Efavirenz/lamivudine/tenofovir (efavirenz + lamivudine + tenofovir).
      • Emtricitabine/tenofovir (emtricitabine + tenofovir).
      • Lamivudine/zidovudine (lamivudine + zidovudine).
    • Medicines for prevention of HIV-related opportunistic infections.
      • Isoniazid/pyridoxine/sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (isoniazid + pyridoxine + sulfamethoxazole + trimethoprim).
    • Other antivirals.
      • Ribavirin.
      • Valganciclovir.
      • Oseltamivirα.
      • Valganciclovirα.
    • Antihepatitis medicines.
    • Medicines for hepatitis B.
    • Nucleoside/Nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors.
      • Entecavir.
      • Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.
    • Medicines for hepatitis C.
    • Pangenotypic direct-acting antiviral combinations
      • Daclatasvir.
      • Daclatasvir/sofosbuvir (daclatasvir + sofosbuvir).
      • Glecaprevir/pibrentasvir (glecaprevir + pibrentasvir).
      • Sofosbuvir.
      • Sofosbuvir/velpatasvir (sofosbuvir + velpatasvir).
    • Non-pangenotypic direct-acting antiviral combinations
      • Dasabuvir.
      • Ledipasvir/sofosbuvir (ledipasvir + sofosbuvir).
      • Ombitasvir/paritaprevir/ritonavir (ombitasvir + paritaprevir + ritonavir).
    • Other antivirals for hepatitis C.
      • Ribavirin.
      • Pegylated interferon-alpha-2a or pegylated interferon-alpha-2bα.
  • Antiprotozoal medicines:
    • Antiamoebic and antigiardiasis medicines
      • Diloxanide.
      • Metronidazole.
    • Antileishmaniasis medicines
      • Amphotericin B.
      • Miltefosine.
      • Paromomycin.
      • Sodium stibogluconate or meglumine antimoniate.
    • Antimalarial medicines.
    • For curative treatment.
      • Amodiaquine.
      • Artemether.
      • Artemether/lumefantrine (artemether + lumefantrine).
      • Artesunate.
      • Artesunate/amodiaquine (artesunate + amodiaquine).
      • Artesunate/mefloquine (artesunate + mefloquine).
      • Artesunate/pyronaridine tetraphosphate (artesunate + pyronaridine tetraphosphate).
      • Chloroquine.
      • Dihydroartemisinin/piperaquine phosphate (dihydroartemisinin + piperaquine phosphate).
      • Doxycycline.
      • Mefloquine.
      • Primaquine.
      • Quinine.
      • Sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine (sulfadoxine + pyrimethamine).
    • For chemoprevention.
      • Amodiaquine + sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine (Co-packaged).
      • Chloroquine.
      • Doxycycline.
      • Mefloquine.
      • Proguanil.
      • Sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine (sulfadoxine + pyrimethamine).
    • Antipneumocystosis and antitoxoplasmosis medicines.
      • Pyrimethamine.
      • Sulfadiazine.
      • Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (sulfamethoxazole + trimethoprim).
      • Pentamidineα.
    • Antitrypanosomal medicines.
    • African trypanosomiasis.
      • Fexinidazole.
    • Medicines for the treatment of 1st stage African trypanosomiasis.
      • Pentamidine.
      • Suramin sodium.
    • Medicines for the treatment of 2nd stage African trypanosomiasis.
      • Eflornithine.
      • Melarsoprol.
      • Nifurtimox.
      • Melarsoprolα.
    • American trypanosomiasis.
      • Benznidazole.
      • Nifurtimox.
  • Medicines for ectoparasitic infections.
    • Ivermectin.

Antimigraine Medicines

  • For treatment of acute attack:
    • Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin).
    • Ibuprofen.
    • Paracetamol (acetaminophen).
    • Sumatriptan.
  • For prophylaxis:
    • Propranolol.

Immunomodulators and Antineoplastics

  • Immunomodulators for non-malignant disease:
    • Adalimumabα.
    • Azathioprineα.
    • Ciclosporinα.
    • Tacrolimusα.
  • Antineoplastics and supportive medicines:
    • Cytotoxic medicines.
      • Arsenic trioxideα.
      • Asparaginaseα.
      • Bendamustineα.
      • Bleomycinα.
      • Calcium folinateα.
      • Capecitabineα.
      • Carboplatinα.
      • Chlorambucilα.
      • Cisplatinα.
      • Cyclophosphamideα.
      • Cytarabineα.
      • Dacarbazineα.
      • Dactinomycinα.
      • Daunorubicinα.
      • Docetaxelα.
      • Doxorubicinα.
      • Etoposideα.
      • Fludarabineα.
      • Fluorouracilα.
      • Gemcitabineα.
      • Hydroxycarbamideα.
      • Ifosfamideα.
      • Irinotecanα.
      • Melphalanα.
      • Mercaptopurineα.
      • Methotrexateα.
      • Oxaliplatinα.
      • Paclitaxelα.
      • Pegaspargaseα.
      • Procarbazineα.
      • Realgar Indigo naturalis formulationα.
      • Tioguanineα.
      • Vinblastineα.
      • Vincristineα.
      • Vinorelbineα.
    • Targeted therapies.
      • All-trans retinoic acid (tretinoin) (ATRA)α.
      • Bortezomibα.
      • Dasatinibα.
      • Erlotinibα.
      • Everolimusα.
      • Ibrutinibα.
      • Imatinibα.
      • Nilotinibα.
      • Rituximabα.
      • Trastuzumabα.
    • Immunomodulators.
      • Filgrastimα.
      • Lenalidomideα.
      • Nivolumabα.
      • Thalidomideα.
    • Hormones and antihormones.
      • Abirateroneα.
      • Anastrozoleα.
      • Bicalutamideα.
      • Dexamethasoneα.
      • Hydrocortisoneα.
      • Leuprorelinα.
      • Methylprednisoloneα.
      • Prednisoloneα.
      • Tamoxifenα.
    • Supportive medicines.
      • Allopurinolα.
      • Mesnaα.
      • Rasburicaseα.
      • Zoledronic acidα.

Antiparkinsonism Medicines

  • Biperiden.
  • Levodopa/carbidopa (levodopa + carbidopa).

Medicines Affecting the Blood

  • Antianaemia medicines:
    • Ferrous salt.
    • Ferrous salt/folic acid (ferrous salt + folic acid).
    • Folic acid.
    • Hydroxocobalamin.
    • Erythropoiesis-stimulating agentsα.
  • Medicines affecting coagulation:
    • Dabigatran.
    • Enoxaparin.
    • Heparin sodium.
    • Phytomenadione.
    • Protamine sulfate.
    • Tranexamic acid.
    • Warfarin.
    • Desmopressinα.
    • Heparin sodiumα.
    • Protamine sulfateα.
    • Warfarinα.
  • Other medicines for haemoglobinopathies:
    • Deferoxamineα.
    • Hydroxycarbamideα.

Blood Products of Human Origin and Plasma Substitutes

  • Blood and blood components:
    • Fresh frozen plasma.
    • Platelets.
    • Red blood cells.
    • Whole blood.
  • Plasma-derived medicines:
    • Human immunoglobulins.
      • Rho(D) immune globulin (anti-D immunoglobulin).
      • Anti-rabies immunoglobulin.
      • Anti-tetanus immunoglobulin.
      • Normal immunoglobulinα.
    • Blood coagulation factors.
      • Coagulation factor VIIIα.
      • Coagulation factor IXα.
    • Plasma substitutes.
      • Dextran 70.

Cardiovascular Medicines

  • Antianginal medicines:
    • Bisoprolol.
    • Glyceryl trinitrate.
    • Isosorbide dinitrate.
    • Verapamil.
  • Antiarrhythmic medicines:
    • Bisoprolol.
    • Digoxin.
    • Epinephrine (adrenaline).
    • Lidocaine.
    • Verapamil.
    • Amiodaroneα.
  • Antihypertensive medicines:
    • Amlodipine.
    • Bisoprolol.
    • Enalapril.
    • Hydralazine.
    • Hydrochlorothiazide.
    • Lisinopril/amlodipine (lisinopril + amlodipine).
    • Lisinopril/hydrochlorothiazide (lisinopril + hydrochlorothiazide).
    • Losartan.
    • Methyldopa.
    • Telmisartan/amlodipine (telmisartan + amlodipine).
    • Telmisartan/hydrochlorothiazide (telmisartan + hydrochlorothiazide).
    • Sodium nitroprussideα.
  • Medicines used in heart failure:
    • Bisoprolol.
    • Digoxin.
    • Enalapril.
    • Furosemide.
    • Hydrochlorothiazide.
    • Losartan.
    • Spironolactone.
    • Dopamineα.
  • Antithrombotic medicines:
    • Anti-platelet medicines.
      • Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin).
      • Clopidogrel.
    • Thrombolytic medicines.
      • Alteplaseα.
      • Streptokinaseα.
    • Lipid-lowering agents.
      • Simvastatin.

Dermatological Medicines (Topical)

  • Antifungal medicines:
    • Miconazole.
    • Selenium sulfide.
    • Sodium thiosulfate.
    • Terbinafine.
  • Anti-infective medicines:
    • Mupirocin.
    • Potassium permanganate.
    • Silver sulfadiazine.
  • Anti-inflammatory and antipruritic medicines:
    • Betamethasone.
    • Calamine.
    • Hydrocortisone.
  • Medicines affecting skin differentiation and proliferation:
    • Benzoyl peroxide.
    • Calcipotriol.
    • Coal tar.
    • Fluorouracil.
    • Podophyllum resin.
    • Salicylic acid.
    • Urea.
  • Scabicides and pediculicides:
    • Benzyl benzoate.
    • Permethrin.

Diagnostic Agents

  • Ophthalmic medicines:
    • Fluorescein.
    • Tropicamide.
  • Radiocontrast media:
    • Amidotrizoate.
    • Barium sulfate.
    • Iohexol.
    • Barium sulfateα.
    • Meglumine iotroxateα.

Antiseptics and Disinfectants

  • Antiseptics:
    • Chlorhexidine.
    • Ethanol.
    • Povidone iodine.
  • Disinfectants:
    • Alcohol based hand rub.
    • Chlorine base compound.
    • Chloroxylenol.
    • Glutaral.


  • Amiloride.
  • Furosemide.
  • Hydrochlorothiazide.
  • Mannitol.
  • Spironolactone.
  • Hydrochlorothiazideα.
  • Mannitolα.
  • Spironolactoneα.

Gastrointestinal Medicines

  • Pancreatic enzymesα.
  • Antiulcer medicines:
    • Omeprazole.
    • Ranitidine.
  • Antiemetic medicines:
    • Dexamethasone.
    • Metoclopramide.
    • Ondansetron.
    • Aprepitantα.
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines:
    • Sulfasalazine.
    • Hydrocortisoneα.
    • Prednisoloneα.
  • Laxatives:
    • Senna.
  • Medicines used in diarrhoea:
    • Oral rehydration salts + zinc sulfate (Co-packaged).
    • Oral rehydration.
      • Oral rehydration salts.
    • Medicines for diarrhoea.
      • Zinc sulfate.

Medicines for Endocrine Disorders

  • Adrenal hormones and synthetic substitutes:
    • Fludrocortisone.
    • Hydrocortisone.
  • Androgens:
    • Testosteroneα.
  • Estrogens:
    • No listings in this section.
  • Progestogens:
    • Medroxyprogesterone acetate.
  • Medicines for diabetes:
    • Insulins.
      • Insulin injection (soluble).
      • Intermediate-acting insulin.
      • Long-acting insulin analogues.
    • Oral hypoglycaemic agents.
      • Empagliflozin.
      • Gliclazide.
      • Metformin.
      • Metforminα.
    • Medicines for hypoglycaemia.
      • Glucagon.
      • Diazoxideα.
  • Thyroid hormones and antithyroid medicines:
    • Levothyroxine.
    • Potassium iodide.
    • Methimazole.
    • Propylthiouracil.
    • Lugol’s solutionα.
    • Methimazoleα.
    • Potassium iodideα.
    • Propylthiouracilα.


  • Diagnostic agents:
    • Tuberculin, purified protein derivative (PPD).
  • Sera, immunoglobulins and monoclonal antibodies:
    • Anti-rabies virus monoclonal antibodies.
    • Antivenom immunoglobulin.
    • Diphtheria antitoxin.
    • Equine rabies immunoglobulin.
  • Vaccines:
    • Recommendations for all.
      • BCG vaccine.
      • Diphtheria vaccine.
      • Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine.
      • Hepatitis B vaccine.
      • Human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine.
      • Measles vaccine.
      • Pertussis vaccine.
      • Pneumococcal vaccine.
      • Poliomyelitis vaccine.
      • Rotavirus vaccine.
      • Rubella vaccine.
      • Tetanus vaccine.
    • Recommendations for certain regions.
      • Japanese encephalitis vaccine.
      • Tick-borne encephalitis vaccine.
      • Yellow fever vaccine.
      • Recommendations for some high-risk populations.
      • Cholera vaccine.
      • Dengue vaccine.
      • Hepatitis A vaccine.
      • Meningococcal meningitis vaccine.
      • Rabies vaccine.
      • Typhoid vaccine.
    • Recommendations for immunisation programmes with certain characteristics.
      • Influenza vaccine (seasonal).
      • Mumps vaccine.
      • Varicella vaccine.

Muscle Relaxants (Peripherally-Acting) and Cholinesterase Inhibitors

  • Atracurium.
  • Neostigmine.
  • Suxamethonium.
  • Vecuronium.
  • Pyridostigmineα.
  • Vecuroniumα.

Ophthalmological Preparations

  • Anti-infective agents:
    • Aciclovir.
    • Azithromycin.
    • Erythromycin.
    • Gentamicin.
    • Natamycin.
    • Ofloxacin.
    • Tetracycline.
  • Anti-inflammatory agents:
    • Prednisolone.
  • Local anaesthetics:
    • Tetracaine.
  • Miotics and antiglaucoma medicines:
    • Acetazolamide.
    • Latanoprost.
    • Pilocarpine.
    • Timolol.
  • Mydriatics:
    • Atropine.
    • Epinephrine (adrenaline)α.
  • Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF):
    • Bevacizumabα.

Medicines for Reproductive Health and Perinatal Care

  • Contraceptives:
    • Oral hormonal contraceptives.
      • Ethinylestradiol/levonorgestrel (ethinylestradiol + levonorgestrel).
      • Ethinylestradiol/norethisterone (ethinylestradiol + norethisterone).
      • Levonorgestrel.
      • Ulipristal.
    • Injectable hormonal contraceptives.
      • Estradiol cypionate/medroxyprogesterone acetate (estradiol cypionate + medroxyprogesterone acetate).
      • Medroxyprogesterone acetate.
      • Norethisterone enantate.
    • Intrauterine devices.
      • IUD with copper.
      • IUD with progestogen.
    • Barrier methods.
      • Condoms.
      • Diaphragms.
    • Implantable contraceptives.
      • Etonogestrel-releasing implant.
      • Levonorgestrel-releasing implant.
    • Intravaginal contraceptives.
      • Ethinylestradiol/etonogestrel (ethinylestradiol + etonogestrel).
      • Progesterone vaginal ring.
  • Ovulation inducers:
    • Clomifeneα.
  • Uterotonics:
    • Carbetocin.
    • Ergometrine.
    • Mifepristone + misoprostol (Co-packaged).
    • Misoprostol.
    • Oxytocin.
  • Antioxytocics (tocolytics):
    • Nifedipine.
  • Medicines administered to the mother:
    • Dexamethasone.
    • Multiple micronutrient supplement.
    • Tranexamic acid.
  • Medicines administered to the neonate:
    • Caffeine citrate.
    • Chlorhexidine.
    • Ibuprofenα.
    • Prostaglandin E1α.
    • Surfactantα.

Peritoneal Dialysis Solution

  • Intraperitoneal dialysis solution (of appropriate composition)α.

Medicines for Mental and Behavioural Disorders

  • Medicines used in psychotic disorders:
  • Medicines used in mood disorders:
    • Medicines used in depressive disorders.
    • Medicines used in bipolar disorders.
      • Carbamazepine.
      • Lithium carbonate.
      • Valproic acid (sodium valproate).
  • Medicines for anxiety disorders:
  • Medicines used for obsessive compulsive disorders:
    • Clomipramine.
  • Medicines for disorders due to psychoactive substance use:
    • Bupropion.
    • Nicotine replacement therapy.
    • Varenicline.
    • Methadoneα.

Medicines Acting on the Respiratory Tract

  • Antiasthmatics and medicines for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease:
    • Budesonide.
    • Budesonide/formoterol (budesonide + formoterol).
    • Epinephrine (adrenaline).
    • Ipratropium bromide.
    • Salbutamol.
    • Tiotropium.

Solutions Correcting Water, Electrolyte and Acid-Base Disturbances

  • Oral:
    • Oral rehydration salts.
    • Potassium chloride.
  • Parenteral:
    • Glucose.
    • Glucose with sodium chloride.
    • Potassium chloride.
    • Sodium chloride.
    • Sodium hydrogen carbonate.
    • Sodium lactate, compound solution.
  • Miscellaneous:
    • Water for injection.

Vitamins and Minerals

  • Ascorbic acid.
  • Calcium.
  • Colecalciferol.
  • Ergocalciferol.
  • Iodine.
  • Multiple micronutrient powder.
  • Nicotinamide.
  • Pyridoxine.
  • Retinol.
  • Riboflavin.
  • Thiamine.
  • Calcium gluconateα.

Ear, Nose and Throat Medicines

  • Acetic acid.
  • Budesonide.
  • Ciprofloxacin.
  • Xylometazoline.

Medicines for Diseases of Joints

  • Medicines used to treat gout:
    • Allopurinol.
  • Disease-modifying agents used in rheumatoid disorders (DMARDs):
    • Chloroquine.
    • Azathioprineα.
    • Hydroxychloroquineα.
    • Methotrexateα.
    • Penicillamineα.
    • Sulfasalazineα.
  • Juvenile joint diseases:
    • Acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin).
  • Dental preparations:
    • Fluoride.
    • Glass ionomer cement.
    • Silver diamine fluoride.

What is an Over-the-Counter Drug?


Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are medicines sold directly to a consumer without a requirement for a prescription from a healthcare professional, as opposed to prescription drugs, which may be supplied only to consumers possessing a valid prescription.

In many countries, OTC drugs are selected by a regulatory agency to ensure that they contain ingredients that are safe and effective when used without a physician’s care. OTC drugs are usually regulated according to their active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) rather than final products. By regulating APIs instead of specific drug formulations, governments allow manufacturers the freedom to formulate ingredients, or combinations of ingredients, into proprietary mixtures.

The term OTC refers to a medication that can be purchased without a medical prescription. In contrast, prescription drugs require a prescription from a doctor and should only be used by the prescribed individual. Some drugs may be legally classified as OTC (i.e. no prescription is required), but may only be dispensed by a pharmacist after an assessment of the patient’s needs or the provision of patient education. Regulations detailing the establishments where drugs may be sold, who is authorised to dispense them, and whether a prescription is required vary considerably from country to country.


As of 2011, around a third of older adults in the US reportedly used OTC drugs. By 2018, the prevalence of use by adults in the US as first-line treatment for minor illnesses had reached 81%.

Regulation by Country


In Canada, there are four drug schedules:

  • Schedule 1: Requires a prescription for sale and is provided to the public by a licensed pharmacist.
  • Schedule 2: Does not require a prescription but requires an assessment by a pharmacist prior to sale. These drugs are kept in an area of the pharmacy where there is no public access and may also be referred to as “behind-the-counter” drugs.
  • Schedule 3: Does not require a prescription but must be kept in an area under the supervision of a pharmacist. These drugs are kept in an area of the retail outlet where self-selection is possible, but a pharmacist must be available to assist in the self-selection of medication if required.
  • Unscheduled: Does not require a prescription and may be sold in any retail outlet.

All medications other than Schedule 1 may be considered an OTC drug, as they do not require prescriptions for sale. While the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities provides recommendations on the scheduling of drugs for sale in Canada, each province may determine its own scheduling. The drugs found in each schedule may vary from province to province.

Indonesia or India

In November 2016, India’s Drug Consultative Committee announced it was embarking on establishing a definition of drugs which could be dispensed without a prescription. Prior to this, the general assumption was that any drug which did not fall into a prescription schedule could be purchased without a prescription. However, the needed definition had not been enacted by early 2018. The lack of a legal definition for OTC drugs has led to this US$4 billion market segment being effectively unregulated.


In the Netherlands, there are four categories:

  • UR (Uitsluitend Recept): prescription only.
  • UA (Uitsluitend Apotheek): pharmacist only.
  • UAD (Uitsluitend Apotheek of Drogist): pharmacist or drugstore only.
  • AV (Algemene Verkoop): may be sold in general stores.

A drug that is UA may be sold OTC but only by pharmacists. The drug can be on the shelves like any other product. Examples are domperidone, 400 mg ibuprofen up to 50 tablets and dextromethorphan. A drug that is UAD can also be sold at drugstores, stores where no prescription can be filed and there is only a relatively small selection of popular drugs like painkillers and cough medicine. The drugs are usually on the shelves, and the store also sells items like toys, gadgets, perfumes and homeopathic products. The drugs in this category have limited risk and addiction potential. Examples are naproxen and diclofenac in small amounts, cinnarizine, 400 mg ibuprofen up to 20 tablets and also 500 mg paracetamol up to 50 tablets. Drugs in the AV category can be sold at supermarkets, gas stations, etc. and include only drugs with minimal risk to the public, like paracetamol up to 20 tablets, 200 mg ibuprofen up to 10 tablets, cetirizine and loperamide.

United States

In the United States, the manufacture and sale of OTC substances are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA requires that all “new drugs” obtain a New Drug Application (NDA) before entering interstate commerce, but the act exempts any drugs generally recognised as safe and effective (GRAS/E). To deal with the vast number of OTC drugs that were already on the market before the requirement that all drugs obtain an NDA, the FDA created the OTC monograph system to review classes of drugs and to categorise them as GRAS/E after review by expert panels. Certain classes of OTC drugs would not be required to obtain an NDA and could remain on the market if they conformed to the monograph guidelines for doses, labelling, and warnings finalized in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Thus, an OTC drug product is allowed to be marketed either (1) pursuant to an FDA monograph or (2) pursuant to an NDA for products that do not fit within a specific monograph. There is also the possibility that certain OTC drug products are marketed under the grandfathering provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, but the FDA has never formally acknowledged that any legitimate grandfathered OTC drug exists.

Examples of OTC substances approved in the United States are sunscreens, anti-microbial and anti-fungal products, external and internal analgesics such as lidocaine and aspirin, psoriasis and eczema topical treatments, anti-dandruff shampoos containing coal tar, and other topical products with a therapeutic effect.

The Federal Trade Commission regulates advertising of OTC products, in contrast to prescription drug advertising, which is regulated by the FDA.

The FDA requires OTC products to be labelled with an approved “Drug Facts” label to educate consumers about their medications. The labels comply to a standard format and are intended to be easy for typical consumers to understand. Drug Facts labels include information on the product’s active ingredient(s), indications and purpose, safety warnings, directions for use, and inactive ingredients.

The 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) includes reforms that modernise the way certain OTC drugs are regulated in the United States. Many OTC monographs need to be updated but updating or changing an OTC monograph requires the slow and burdensome notice-and-comment rulemaking process. The CARES Act includes OTC monograph reform provisions that replace the rulemaking process with an administrative order process.

Restricted Over-the-Counter Substances (US)

An ill-defined third category of substances is products having over-the-counter status from the FDA while being simultaneously subject to other restrictions on sale. While they are legally classified as OTC drugs, they are typically stored behind the counter and are sold only in stores that are registered with their state. They may be unavailable in convenience and grocery stores that stock other non-restricted OTC medications.

For example, many drugstores have moved products containing pseudoephedrine, an OTC product, into locations where customers must ask a pharmacist for them. A prescription is not required; the change has been made in an effort to reduce methamphetamine production. Since the passage of the Illinois Methamphetamine Precursor Control Act and the subsequent federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, the purchase of pseudoephedrine is restricted. Sellers of pseudoephedrine must obtain and record the identity of the purchaser and enforce quantity restrictions. Some states may have more stringent requirements (such as Oregon, where a medical prescription is required to purchase any quantity of pseudoephedrine). After initial attempts to control methamphetamine use (by requiring documentation of sale with government issued ID as well as limits on the quantity an individual could purchase) failed to realise meaningful reductions in methamphetamine use and production, Mississippi passed House Bill 512 in the State Senate on February 2, 2010 “to require a prescription from a licensed medical professional to purchase over-the-counter medicines with pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, or any other precursor chemical that can readily and illicitly be converted into methamphetamine, Methcathinone or any active/scheduled analogues of Phenylethylamines/ amphetamine.” However, products containing the substance are still OTC in most states, since no prescription is required.

A similar regulation once applied to some forms of emergency contraception. However, on 25 February 2014, the FDA approved generic one-pill emergency contraception products for unrestricted sale on the shelf. There is no age limit or need for ID to purchase.

Furthermore, some Schedule V controlled substances may be classified as OTC products in certain states. Such drugs are sold without a prescription but are subject to record-keeping rules and quantity and/or age restrictions, and they must be dispensed by a pharmacy. Finally, pharmacies frequently require a prescription for Schedule V drugs as a matter of policy, despite their OTC status according to applicable laws and regulations.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, medication is governed by the Medicines Regulations 2012. Medication falls into one of three categories:

  • Prescription Only Medication (POM), which are legally available only with a valid prescription from a prescriber.
    • A pharmacist has to be on the premises for POM medicines to be dispensed, required by law.
    • The medicine has been specifically prescribed for the patient holding the prescription, so it is considered safe for only the recipient to take.
    • Just a small example of these include most antibiotics and all antidepressants or antidiabetic medications.
    • Drugs included as POM are high-strength painkillers such as oxycodone and tramadol, medications such as Zolpidem (Ambien), diazepam (Valium), and certain topical preparations such as corticosteroids.
    • These medicines are often sold by drug dealers, especially those marked as “CD POM,” which are controlled due to abuse risk such as dipipanone, temazepam, and methadone.
  • General Sales List (GSL), available off the shelf with no pharmacy training required to sell (so they can be sold anywhere, such as supermarkets).
    • In general, they are considered safe for most people when taken correctly.
    • Examples of these include 16-packs (or less) of painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen as well as a host of other safe medications such as small pack sizes of antiallergy tablets, laxative medication, and skin creams.
  • Pharmacy Medicines (P) are medicines that are legally neither a POM or GSL medication.
    • These can be sold from a registered pharmacy but should not be available for self-selection (although directions to discuss a ‘P’ product may be allocated shelf space with associated GSL items).
    • ‘P’ medications are reserved from the GSL list as they are either associated with a need for advice on use, or used in conditions which may require referral to a medical prescriber.
    • Suitable trained counter assistants may sell a ‘P’ medication under the supervision of a pharmacist and will ask questions to determine if the customer needs to be referred for a discussion with a pharmacist.
    • Some ‘POM’ medicines are available for use in certain situations and doses as ‘P’ medicines.

If it is not appropriate to sell a ‘P’ medication – i.e. the condition is not suitable for self-management and requires referral to a medical prescriber – then a sale should not occur and the pharmacist has a legal and professional obligation to refer this on to an appropriate service.

Examples of these include some sleep aid tablets such as Nytol, human deworming tablets such as Mebendazole, painkillers with small amounts of codeine (up to 12.8 mg per tablet), and pseudoephedrine. Medication available only with a prescription is marked somewhere on the box/container with [POM]. Pharmacy-only products are marked with [P]. A prescription is not required for [P] medicines, and pharmacy sales assistants are required by Royal Pharmaceutical Society codes to ask certain questions, which varies for what the customer says. If they ask for a specific product, the pharmacy assistant must ask “Who is it for,” “How long have you had the symptoms,” “Are you allergic to any medication,” “Are you taking any medication” (‘WHAM’ questions). If a customer asks for a remedy, e.g. hay fever, then the two WHAM questions must be followed “Who is it for,” “What are the symptoms,” “How long have you had the symptoms,” “Have you taken any action towards your symptoms,” and “Are you taking any other medication.” It is with this information that the pharmacist can halt the sale, if need be. No [POM], [P] or [GSL] products that are stocked in a pharmacy can be sold, dispensed, or pre-made until a responsible pharmacist is signed in and on the premises. Some medication available in supermarkets and petrol stations is sold only in smaller packet sizes. Often, larger packs will be marked as [P] and available only from a pharmacy. Frequently, customers buying larger-than-usual doses of [P] medicines (such as DXM, promethazine, codeine or Gee’s linctus) will be queried, due to the possibility of abuse.

Transitions between Prescription and OTC

As a general rule, over-the-counter drugs have to be used primarily to treat a condition that does not require the direct supervision of a doctor and must be proven to be reasonably safe and well tolerated. OTC drugs are usually also required to have little or no abuse potential, although in some areas drugs such as codeine are available OTC (usually in strictly limited formulations or requiring paperwork or identification to be submitted during purchase).

Over time, often 3-6 years, drugs that prove themselves safe and appropriate as prescription medicines may be switched from prescription to OTC.[citation needed] An example of this is diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an anti-histamine which once required a prescription but now is available OTC nearly everywhere. More recent examples are cimetidine and loratadine in the United States, and ibuprofen in Australia.

It is somewhat unusual for an OTC drug to be withdrawn from the market as a result of safety concerns, rather than market forces, though it does happen occasionally. For example, phenylpropanolamine was removed from sale in the United States over concern regarding strokes in young women. A study has been done examining consumer’s perceptions about the risk of and access to non-prescription medication. The study concluded that a small percentage of consumers prefer having access to medication over potential risks of taking non-prescribed medication. Ranitidine was withdrawn from multiple markets due to concerns over the carcinogen N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA).

In the United Kingdom, it was announced in February 2007 that Boots the Chemist would try OTC sales of Viagra in stores in Manchester, England (previous available as prescription only). Men aged between 30 and 65 could buy four tablets after a consultation with a pharmacist.

Deprescribing & Antidepressant Use in Older Adults

Research Paper Title

Long term antidepressant use in a cohort of older people.


Depression is the most common mental health problem in older adults and untreated is associated with significant burden of illness for patients. This study aimed to examine longitudinal patterns of antidepressant use in older adults and determine which factors were associated with changes in use.


Adults aged 50 and over, from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, who participated at any one of the four TILDA waves (n = 8,175) were included in the analysis. Repeated measures latent class analysis (RMLCA) is the model-based approach we used to identify underlying subgroups in a population.


The researchers found antidepressant use ranged from 6% to 10%, over a 6-year period. RMLCA identified three distinct classes of anti-depressant use. Notably, 6% of older adults were categorised in a ‘long-term antidepressant use’ class, with consistent use across all four waves, and 6% were categorised in an ‘Intermittent/ Developing Use’ class. We found long-term antidepressant use to be a characteristic of older adults with chronic conditions at baseline of study and striking low uptake of psychological and psychiatric services.


These findings provide evidence of the complex presentations of depression with comorbidities in long-term antidepressant users. While prolonged use of antidepressants in an older cohort is often rationalised due to recurrent depression and comorbidities, this study suggests little deprescribing of antidepressants and a need for greater access and provision of psychological services tailored to later life seem necessary to improve management of this condition.


O’Neill, A., McFarland, J. & Kelly, D. (2021) Long term antidepressant use in a cohort of older people. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. doi: 10.1002/gps.5518. Online ahead of print.

Dosed (2019)


An award-winning documentary film about treating anxiety, depression and addiction with psychedelic medicine.


After years of prescription medications failed her a suicidal woman, Adrianne, turns to underground healers to try and overcome her depression, anxiety, and opioid addiction with illegal psychedelic medicine like magic mushrooms and iboga.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Tyler Chandler.
  • Producer(s): Robert J. Barnhart, Tyler Chandler, Jason Hodges, Kelley Hodges, Chris Mayerson, Nicholas Meyers, and Nick Soares.
  • Writer(s): Tyler Chandler, Nicholas Meyers, and Jessie Deeter (Story consultant).
  • Music: Jayme McDonald.
  • Cinematography: Nicholas Meyers.
  • Editor(s): Tyler Chandler and Nicholas Meyers.
  • Production: Golden Teacher Films.
  • Release Date: 20 March 2019 (US).
  • Running Time: 82 minutes.

A New Understanding: The Science of Psilocybin (2015)


A New Understanding explores the treatment of end-of-life anxiety in terminally ill cancer patients using psilocybin, a psychoactive compound found in some mushrooms, to facilitate deeply spiritual experiences.


The documentary explores the confluence of science and spirituality in the first psychedelic research studies since the 1970’s with terminally ill patients.

As a society we devote a great deal of attention to treating cancer, but very little to treating the human being who is dying of cancer. The recent resurgence of psychedelic research is once again revealing the power of compounds like psilocybin to profoundly alter our understanding of both life and death. Through the eyes of patients, their loved ones, therapists, and researchers, A New Understanding examines the use of psilocybin in a controlled setting to reduce psychospiritual anxiety, depression, and physical pain.

The treatment aims to help the patient understand that a ‘good’ death is possible, and to help the patient’s family deal well with the dying process. A New Understanding shows patients and their families coming to terms with dying through the skillful treatment of the whole human being. If we can learn to work more skillfully with dying, we will also learn to take better care of life.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Roslyn Dauber.
  • Producer(s): Robert J Barnhart, Roslyn Dauber, Brady Dial, Matt Humble, Steve McDonald, Jeff Porter, and Mitch Schultz.
  • Music: Brian Satterwhite.
  • Editor(s): Jason Uson.
  • Studio: Red Phoenix Productions.
  • Production: Golden Teacher Films.
  • Release Date: March 2015 (US).
  • Running Time: 55 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Langauge: English.

Book: Preventing Bipolar Relapse

Book Title:

Preventing Bipolar Relapse: A Lifestyle Program to Help You Maintain a Balanced Mood & Live Well.

Author(s): Ruth C. White (PhD, MPH, MSW).

Year: 2014.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: New Harbinger Publications.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.


There is an old saying: “Prevention is better than cure.” If you have bipolar disorder, this is especially true. For you, it is incredibly important to read the warning signs of a possible episode. For instance, you may find you are not sleeping as well as usual, or you might be sleeping too much. You may stop doing things that you normally enjoy, or you may start acting out your impulses in ways that alienate those around you or get you into trouble.

While the path to wellness for those with bipolar may involve psychiatric visits and medication adjustments, preventing manic and depressive episodes is the true key to staying healthy and happy. So how do you do it? And most importantly, how can you keep yourself motivated?

In this powerful, breakthrough book, bipolar expert Ruth C. White shares her own personal approach to relapse prevention using the innovative programme SNAP (Sleep, Nutrition, Activity, and People).

White also offers practical tips and tracking tools you can use anytime, anywhere. By making necessary lifestyle adjustments, you can maintain balanced moods, recognise the warning signs of an oncoming episode, and make the necessary changes to reduce or prevent it.

This is the first and only book on bipolar disorder that focuses exclusively on prevention. To help you stay well, White includes links to helpful online tracking tools so that you can manage your symptoms, anytime, anywhere. If you are ready to stop living in fear of your next episode, this life-changing book can help you take charge of your diagnosis – and your life.

Benzodiazepine & Prescribing Behaviour

Research Paper Title

An Intervention to Decrease Benzodiazepine Prescribing by Providers in an Urban Clinic.


The objective of this quality improvement project was to decrease the amount of benzodiazepines (BZDs) prescribed by providers at a Midwestern university outpatient clinic.


Clinic providers participated in a brief, live educational intervention combining academic detailing (i.e., the provision of current evidence about BZD) and pharmaceutical detailing (i.e., a sales technique borrowed from pharmaceutical companies).

A 1% decrease in BZD prescribing was set as the measure of success.

Using data from the electronic medical record, the monthly average of BZD prescriptions written within calendar year 2017 (before project launch) was compared to the number written 30 days after the intervention.


Following the intervention, an 80% reduction in BZD prescribing was calculated.


Combined academic and pharmaceutical detailing could be an effective way to change prescribing behaviour in this provider population.

Further investigation is needed to ascertain whether the change in prescribing behaviour can be sustained, and that no harm is being done to patients who are currently dependent on BZD medications.


Platt, L., Savage, T.A. & Rajagopal, N. (2020) An Intervention to Decrease Benzodiazepine Prescribing by Providers in an Urban Clinic. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services. 58(1), pp.39-45. doi: 10.3928/02793695-20191218-08.

A Provider’s Experience of Making Alliances With Patients Dependent on Benzodiazepines

Research Paper Title

Making Alliances With Patients Dependent on Benzodiazepines: A Provider’s Experience.


Tens of millions of benzodiazepine (BZD) prescriptions are written annually for the outpatient management of anxiety disorders and insomnia.

Many prescribers do not follow published treatment guidelines for these disorders. Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) regularly meet patients who have been treated with BZDs for years.

The dangers posed by outpatient BZD use are recognised, especially among older adults, and their use should be minimised or eliminated.

There are multiple manualised approaches to outpatient down-titration of BZDs, but little evidence about which methods really work.

To effect change, it is essential that PMHNPs establish a sound therapeutic alliance with these patients, especially by using their skills in therapeutic communication.

One major conflict that may occur early in the relationship is the patient’s expectation that the BZD medication regimen will continue indefinitely and their unwillingness to risk discontinuing the drug.

This conflict commonly raises non-adherence to a down-titration plan or patient termination of the relationship.

It is essential that PMHNPs take the time and patience to build strong therapeutic alliances with patients to design and implement a successful BZD discontinuation regimen.


Amberg, A. (2020) Making Alliances With Patients Dependent on Benzodiazepines: A Provider’s Experience. Journal of Pyschosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services. 58(1), pp.29-32. doi: 10.3928/02793695-20191218-06.