Pharmacist Behind the CounterSome drugs are only sold behind the counter at the pharmacy for safety reasons. Behind-the-counter drugs refer to those medications that don’t need a prescription but also are not available over the counter. They are often easier to obtain than a prescription drug, but you may find it more difficult to get than just grabbing it off the shelf.

If you want to purchase drugs that are sold only behind the counter, you will need to speak with the pharmacist first, who will then decide whether you should get the drugs or not. These specific medications that require a pharmacist’s approval before being sold is intended to prevent them from being abused or misused.

How do behind-the-counter drugs differ from prescription drugs?

One of the biggest differences between drugs that are prescribed and those that are offered through the pharmacy is the convenience. If you need a prescription, you need to first make an appointment with your doctor. This may take a few weeks, depending on the severity of your problem and his or her patient schedule.

Along with the time involved with getting access to a prescription, there are extra costs involved. You have to pay for the office visit, no matter how short it may be. If you have good insurance this may not be a high cost, but if you aren’t covered this sometimes takes up a big chunk of your money, especially if the visit involves blood work or other tests.

With behind-the-counter drugs you do not have to make an appointment, as you can just walk in to your local pharmacy. There may be a short wait but it usually isn’t more than ten minutes. Your consultation with the pharmacist is free and often takes no more than five minutes. All that is left is the purchase of the medication itself.

How do behind-the-counter drugs and over-the-counter drugs differ?

Both drugs that are available behind the counter and over the counter (OTC) can be found at the same places, which include pharmacies in convenient locations such as grocery stores and variety stores such as Target, as well as stand-alone drug stores. The difference is that you do not need a pharmacist consultation to get over-the-counter drugs―you can easily and quickly pick them off of the shelves yourself.

The potencies of behind-the-counter drugs may be more along the lines of a prescription drug or more like the medications obtained over the counter. Certain varieties of both OTC medications and prescription medications have been switched to the new behind-the-counter category, for different reasons.

What types of drugs are only available behind the counter?

At this point in time, there are limited drugs that are available behind the counter. The first prescription drug to switch categories was in November of 2006, according to CNNMoney. This was Plan B, which is an emergency contraceptive.

Known also as the morning-after pill, Plan B is 89% effective when taken within three days of unprotected intercourse. One of the reasons for switching it to behind-the-counter status is how quickly you can get it. If you had to wait even a week to see your regular doctor, the pill wouldn’t be effective.

In the past there were certain restrictions as to who could get the morning after pill. Minors used to need a prescription from their doctor in order to obtain it. As of April 2013, this restriction was lifted and now anyone can get the pill, according to Planned Parenthood.

Another type of behind-the-counter drug that used to be available over the counter is anything that contains pseudoephedrine. Some examples of these drugs include Sudafed, Sudrine, Pseudocot, and Afrinol. It was switched from an OTC to a behind-the-counter drug due to the dangerous drug that could be made with it: methamphetamine.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, methamphetamine is a stimulant drug that acts similar to amphetamine. It can be prescribed by a doctor, but it is not refillable, due to the high incidence of addiction and abuse.

Over-the-counter drugs that contained pseudoephedrine started to be used in illegal laboratories to make methamphetamine. This led to widespread illegal drug abuse, as well as the endangerment of the environment and people in and around the labs, due to the high flammability of making meth.

This dangerous use of the OTC drug led to all of the medications containing pseudoephedrine to be moved to behind the counter and monitored. The move prevented mass quantities of pseudoephedrine from being grabbed off the shelves for misuse.

What are the dangers of behind-the-counter drugs?

There are not a lot of drugs that are currently offered only behind the counter, but talks have been in the works for some time to make more drugs available in that manner. Some consumers may have the misconception that, because they are offered through a pharmacist only, they are safer than prescription drugs.

Whether they were prescription drugs or OTC drugs first, all medications have side effects. If your pharmacist tells you that you should take a particular behind-the-counter drug, make sure you know what the side effects are and if it has any negative effects if combined with other drugs you are taking.