What is the difference between prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs?

Prescription medicines are:

  • Prescribed by a doctor;
  • Bought only at a pharmacy;
  • Prescribed for and used by only one person.


Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are:

  • Drugs that do NOT require a doctor's prescription, such as aspirin, antacids, or vitamins;
  • Can be purchased by anyone at any store.


Both prescription and OTC medicines are carefully approved and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Whether you are taking a prescription or OTC medicine, you should:

  • Read the label carefully;
  • Understand how to take the medicine;
  • Only take the recommended amount at the right times.


If you have questions about any type of medicine or treatment, you should ask your pharmacist or doctor.