Have you ever gone to a pharmacy demanding for a drug and were told you couldn’t get it without a prescription?

Meanwhile on other occasions you asked for another drug and it was sold to you without any push back.

This drug that was sold to you without a prescription is called an over the counter medication just as the name implies. You walk in, ask for it and it’s readily sold over the counter, no questions asked.

In Nigeria, the regulation of drug distribution coupled with the haphazard healthcare structure leaves a lot to be desired. This explains why antibiotics which are not over the counter medications are sold to patients without a prescription.

This is because members of the public need these drugs and many of them do not have access to see a physician when they have healthcare needs.

As a result, the community pharmacies are filling the gap but as you must have noticed community pharmacists are pretty keen on ensuring proper use of antibiotics.

This explains why your neighborhood pharmacist is reluctant to sell you just a card of Ampiclox when two cards are needed for a complete 5-day treatment.

Why The Categories?

Categorizing drugs as over the counter medicines or prescription only medicines is actually for the benefit of the patients. Drugs need to be handled with care.

Those drugs which are capable of causing more damage if used wrongly are sold with more restrictions.

So even with the relatively freer drug distribution system some drugs will still not be sold without a prescription and the reason is simple. The Pharmacist needs to be sure that a physician has seen such a patient and deemed it necessary that the patient takes such medications.

Over the counter medications are capable of causing harm when not used properly but the risk is less.

Some categories of drugs here include some analgesics, antacids, oral contraceptives, libido enhancing drugs, vitamins and supplements, cough and cold medications.

You will observe that these medications are used for relatively milder conditions where the patient can identify what is wrong and probably make a decision on what to take.

Ask Your Pharmacist

It’s still worthy to note that even with the over the counter medications, speaking with a pharmacist can provide better insights.

Some OTC meds have similar constituents and so shouldn’t be combined while some should not be taken with certain medications, these are the insights you can only get from your Pharmacist.

Same applies to supplements as well, remember anytime you walk into a pharmacy you are bound to get more value if you have a conversation with a pharmacist.

You might have been taking a medication for a pretty long time but there just might be a tiny detail you have missed.

Olusanya Oluwatomi (B.Pharm UPH)