Have you ever wandered through your local pharmacy, having a vague idea of what ails you and what you need to get better, only to be bogged down by the immense range of similar products with only slightly varying descriptions? It’s much easier when you have a doctor’s prescription: you take the scribbled handwriting to the pharmacist’s desk and he or she gets you exactly what you need, along with a comprehensive description of how you need to take it. But for things like headaches, stomach pains, allergies, and other everyday health issues, you might think you’re on your own. You could waste precious time standing in the aisles debating the different packaging, or worse, you could waste your hard-earned money on the wrong product.
The truth is your pharmacist is not necessarily limited to serving those only with official prescriptions. Anyone who has had a formal education as a pharmacy technician will be able to assist you in selecting the appropriate non-prescription drug. There are in fact several categories of these drugs that a pharmaceutical specialist is trained to know about and to help you choose the right one, while making sure other non-prescription drugs stay out of the wrong hands.
The main difference can be said to be between your regular commercial drugs and what is sometimes referred to as ‘over-the-counter’ drugs, although the latter term often gets used in a generic way to mean all non-prescription drugs. Regular non-prescription drugs can be anything from simple pain-relievers, cold and flu drugs, and antacids, to name a few. Often you don’t even need to go into a pharmacy to get these, but can find them in supermarkets and gas stations, where no pharmacist is there to help. What makes these so easily obtainable is that there is relatively low risk of danger from misuse.
Over-the-counter drugs should normally refer to exactly what they mean: drugs that are literally kept behind the counter, or at least away from the average consumer to simply pick up themselves and toss it in their shopping baskets. These can include stronger pain relievers, as in those with mild doses of codeine, as well as muscle relaxants and strong antihistamines. Knowing when to serve a customer these types of drugs is exactly the specialized knowledge one gets in a pharmacy technician program or as part of a more general nursing school. The pharmacist in this case must know how to listen and assess a patient’s needs before deciding whether the patient needs these stronger drugs.
Whether having to make the critical decisions of giving out literal over-the-counter drugs, or being able to assist anyone who is in need of guidance with regularly shelved commercial drugs, we rely on our pharmacists to have the knowledge, experience and judgment to help us make the right decisions. This is why pharmacists are more than mere clerks in a drugstore, but require an education as comparatively thorough as other healthcare professionals, like for example, a nursing degree.