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Why some medicines are kept behind the counter

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Have you ever wondered why some medicines are kept under lock and key behind the pharmacy counter? These prescription only drugs require a little closer attention because if they fall into the wrong hands, they can be misappropriated for more sinister purposes. At present they can only be prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist. Here are a few reasons why.

  1. There are safety concerns.

When a drug is extremely potent, it has the potential to be incredibly helpful. A drug might be considered unsafe if it has a narrow margin of safety: in layman’s terms, if the difference between an effective and safe dosage is not all that far off an unsafe dangerous dosage. Imagine a scenario where 100ml of a certain drug might be helpful, but 130ml could have serious implications on your health. The risk of overdose becomes unacceptable, and so it becomes prescribed because you would need a doctor to explain how to safely administer the medicine, and a pharmacist to regulate how much of it you can get at any one time. A good example of this might be sleeping tablets. Used within the recommended margins, they can help. But if taken at too high a level, it can be lethal. Not every medicine is a vitamin C tablet that you can wolf down at your discretion… 

  1. They are complex to administer.

Some medicines require the services of trained health professionals, and shouldn’t be attempted by an unwell person alone in their house. Drugs that enter directly into the bloodstream fall into this category. Aside from the fact that the dosage matters down to the millilitre, an untrained hand will not be able to find a vein effectively. If the medicine is injected into anywhere but the vein, it can create serious health conditions. Vaccinations and other shots fall into this category. Given most people’s aversion to needles, it’s best to shut your eyes and let a professional sort this one out.

  1. You can get hooked.

Years ago, I had all four wisdom teeth out at once, and once the anaesthetic wore off, I started to feel the weight of having had four bones ripped from my face. It was agony. Fortunately, I had panadeine forte and codeine to numb the pain. But I knew I had to wean myself off them at the earliest opportunity. See, these kinds of drugs are helpful as a short term crutch. They prop you up when you need them, but – like a crutch – you should be working to get off them as early as possible. If we begin to integrate the crutch into our everyday life, we have developed an addiction. Many drugs can cause physical and psychological dependence. Having these kinds of drugs regulated by the doctor and the pharmacist, we can ensure that a patient is being slowly weaned off the drug and moving back to a life free of addiction. There is a scientific approach to how we can help people off these addictive substances. If patients try to do it themselves, they might experience withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, tremor, depression and or anxiety. Not a lot of fun. 

  1. Abusing the drug can actually make them less effective.

Drugs taken incorrectly over time can actually produce germs which no longer respond to the treatment. The germ or pathogen has developed ‘drug resistance’, and this has serious repercussions for yourself, and the next person who might pick up your drug resistant germs. Medical research has shown that with careful combinations of antimicrobials, we can counter this new strain of germ, but it requires a great deal of medical expertise to administer this correctly. Again, not something which a sick patient at 3am can realistically deal with.

  1. They can be distilled into something much worse.

Many painkillers contain active ingredients which can be distilled down to create illicit substances. I’m not going to go into the details here. The less that is known about which prescription drugs can make which illicit drugs the better as far as I’m concerned.

As you might expect, an over the counter (OTC) drug doesn’t fit into any of these categories. Studies have shown that patients can take it for a long period of time without developing addiction, or an adverse health reaction; the dosage (while still potentially dangerous if abused) varies significantly between a safe and an unsafe dosage; and it is safe to administer without any medical expertise. This is not to say that these drugs are in any way ineffective. On the contrary, they have gone through rigorous checks to ensure their efficacy and effectiveness. They are simply safer than their prescription cousins. 

I hope that one day, you will be able to access more medicines upon consultation with a pharmacist rather than having to go to see a doctor every single time. There are many medicines which you, the doctor, and your pharmacist all know you need, but you still have to jump through the hoops to get your hands on it. The debate is still ongoing, and while there will always be a need for your GP to prescribe certain medicines to you, the day may come where that process becomes more simple for you.

At Aussie Pharmacy, we want to make your health journey as simple as possible, which is why we fill online prescriptions as well as OTC medicines. Don’t get me wrong, there is still due diligence from us. We still need to see a prescription from a doctor. Far be it from me to provide someone with medicines which might be used in an unsafe manner. But by getting your online prescriptions here, it means we become a one stop shop for all of your health needs. And when it all comes at once, you are saving money. I firmly believe that this is the future of healthcare in modern Australia. 

So get in touch to see how you can get your online prescriptions filled here.