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Over-the-Counter Drugs

  • By: John M. Roll & Donelle N. Howell
  • In: Encyclopedia of Drug Policy
  • Edited by: Mark A. R. Kleiman & James E. Hawdon
  • Subject:Public Policy, Drug Crimes

In the United States, therapeutic drugs are classified into two categories: prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. OTC drugs, or nonprescription drugs, refer to those drugs that can be obtained without a prescription. Often OTC drugs began as prescription drugs and were later switched to OTC status. These drugs are used to treat a wide range of health ailments such as bodily aches, coughs, colds, allergies, and heartburn.

There are currently more than 300,000 OTC products that include about 800 active ingredients that constitute one of the more than 80 therapeutic classes of OTC drugs. Six out of every 10 medications bought by consumers are OTC drugs. Often, OTC drugs have the same ingredients as a prescription drug, but have a much lower dose of the ...

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