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Prescription Medications

Prescription Medication Facts

  • All medications sold in the United States can be divided into two categories:
    • Prescription medications that require a prescription from an authorized prescriber (for example, doctor, nurse practitioner, dentist, etc).
    • Nonprescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications that do not require a prescription from an authorized prescriber (for example, doctor, nurse practitioner, dentist, etc).
  • Prescription medications are generally more potent than those sold over-the-counter (OTC), and may have more serious side effects and drug interactions if inappropriately used.
  • Therefore, these medications are only sold under a prescriber's direction.
  • These directions are written or typed on a prescription by the prescriber, then double-checked, packaged, and sold to you by a pharmacist.

Historical Background of Prescription Medications

  • The regulation of drugs in the United States began with the Import Drugs Act of 1846, enacted after Mexico sold the US Army tainted drugs to treat malaria.
  • In 1906, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was formed, primarily to regulate commerce and to combat the then rampant adulteration (debasement or dilution of a substance by adding other material) of foods and drugs.
  • The FDA was not empowered to address drug safety issues until 1938, following the unnecessary deaths of 107 children from a new drug preparation. This incident led to laws that required drugs be proven safe before they were allowed on the market.
  • The last major regulatory change was the provision of the FDA in 1962 that drugs be proven to be effective as well as safe before they could be used.
  • Today, the FDA continues to regulate all drugs sold in the US, both by ensuring that they are safe and effective in what they do before they are released and by limiting their distribution by deciding which medications require a prescription to be sold.
Last Reviewed 11/20/2017

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