Ever wonder why the pharmacist won’t hand over those painkillers without a prescription? Or why you have to stand in a queue just to get the pharmacist to reach under her counter and give you antihistamines? The answer is: medicine schedules.
So what are medicine schedules? Even though they may sometimes be a source of annoyance, medicine schedules are there to keep us safe and protect us from things like accidentally becoming addicted to codeine. Essentially, a medicine schedule is the number given to pharmaceutical products based on their benefits and risks — in a nutshell, the lower the risk, the lower the medicine schedule.
There are three main types of medicine schedules
- Unscheduled medicines have a schedule of 0 (S0 medicines).
- You can buy them on the shelves at places like pharmacies, supermarkets, health shops or service stations.
- Things like aspirin, vitamins and even some topical creams are considered schedule 0 medicines.
- It’s all in the name really; over-the-counter medicines (or OTC medicines) are medicines that can be given to you over the counter without a prescription.
- Over-the-counter medicines have a schedule of 1 or a schedule of 2 (S1 and S2 medicines).
- Although you don’t need a prescription for schedule 1 and 2 medicines, you can only buy them from a pharmacy and they must be given to you by a pharmacist.
- In South Africa, pharmacists are required by law to write down your name and the name and quantity of the medicine whenever you buy a schedule 1 or 2 medicine.
- Things like cold and flu remedies, antihistamines and anti-inflammatories are considered schedule 1 and 2 medicines.
- The reason why these medicines are behind the counter is because you should be consulting the pharmacist about the best treatment for your condition based on things like other medication you might be on, your weight and age and other complicating factors. Pharmacists are trained to help, so use them!
- In South Africa, any medicine classified as schedule 3 or higher is a prescription medicine.
- To get prescription medicine, you need: a prescription from a doctor, dentist or allied health professional, which you then take to a pharmacy to be filled. The pharmacist should explain how to take the medicine — ask as many questions as you like and only leave when you’re sure you understand how to take the medicine.
- By law, you can only get a 6-month repeat prescription for schedule 3 and schedule 4 medicines.
- Medicine with a high scheduling status (usually schedule 5 and above) is treated differently because of its habit-forming nature and potential harmful side effects — pharmacists keep a record of all sales, and repeat prescriptions are limited or not given, and need to be renewed.
Keep this medicine schedules table handy and you’ll never be confused about where to get which kinds of medicine again!
For more information about medicine schedules, visit IPASA.