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Difference Between OTC and Prescription drugs

OTC vs Prescription drugs

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs are both drugs used to treat some ailments, but they are very different from each other in respect to their formulation, their cost, coverage by insurance, etc.

OTC, or over-the-counter, medicines are medicines which have been formulated for reasons like headaches, indigestion, colds and coughs, etc. The FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, deem the strength of an OTC as “safe and effective.” They can be taken without consulting a physician, and the strength is such that it can be taken when the instructions are followed without expecting any dangerous reaction or an overdose. However, prescription medicines are stronger and for more aggressive treatments. They are of therapeutic strength and can cause many dangerous and life-threatening reactions if not taken according to the prescription given. Prescription drugs are given for major diseases which need serious consultation by physicians like heart diseases, cancer, etc.

OTCs can be accessed easily; they do not need a prescription of a physician. They can be bought from any drug store or outlet and can be given to a friend or family member when required. They are not for a specific patient whereas prescription drugs are meant for a specific patient. They are prescribed by a physician, and only a licensed pharmacist is qualified to fill the order. They cannot be shared with anybody.

Over-the-counter drugs for simple ailments are usually not too expensive. Only those OTCs are slightly expensive which were earlier prescription drugs. An OTC is also not a patent of a certain company. Their formulas are not secret, and many companies can make them at the same time. Whereas prescription drugs are a patent of a company held for a number of years, and the company is responsible for deciding its cost. They are usually expensive.

Over-the-counter drugs are usually not covered by any insurance, which means the person buying it has to pay the full market price for the drugs. Prescription drugs, however, are almost always covered by insurance, and the patient has to pay only a portion of the cost or a small deductible.


1.OTCs do not need to be prescribed by a physician; they can be bought by anyone from any drug store. Prescription drugs are prescribed by a physician, and the order can be filled only by a licensed pharmacist.
2.OTCs are usually less expensive than prescription drugs. Only those drugs which were once prescription drugs and are now OTCs are slightly more expensive.
3.The formulation of OTCs are deemed “safe and effective” by the FDA; prescription drugs are of therapeutic strength and can cause serious reactions.
4.OTCs can be shared by friends and family; prescription drugs are given to a specific patient and cannot be legally shared with anyone.

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