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A medication is a licensed drug taken to cure or reduce symptoms of an illness or medical condition. Medications are typically produced by pharmaceutical companies and are often patented to protect their exclusive rights to produce them, but they can also be derived from naturally occurring substances in plants called herbal medicine. Those that are not patented (or with expired patents) are called generic drugs since they can be produced by other companies without restrictions or licenses from the patent holder. Referring to medications by their generic name rather than their brand name is important.[1][2]

Zoopharmacognosy is animal usage of drugs and non-foods.


Medication can be usually classified in various ways, e.g. by its chemical properties, mode of administration, or biological system affected. An elaborate and widely used classification system is the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Classification System.


Medications are generally divided into groups by the United States and similar laws.

Over-the-counter drug

Over-the-counter drug (OTC) medications, which are available in pharmacies and supermarkets without special restrictions

Behind the counter

Behind the counter (BTC) are dispensed by a pharmacist without needing a doctor's prescription,

Prescribed drugs

Prescription only medicines (POM), which must be prescribed by a physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or dentist. These medications are approved by national entities such as the Food and Drug Administration in the United States or by international entities such as the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) of the European Union and United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

The approval process may not study adequate number of patients for sufficient period of time.[3]

Proscribed drugs

The International Narcotics Control Board of the United Nations imposes a world law of prohibition or censorship of certain medications. They publish a lengthy list of chemicals and plants whose trade and consumption (where applicable) is forbidden. Most OTC medication is generally considered to be safe enough that most persons will not hurt themselves accidentally by taking it as instructed. Many countries, such as the UK have a third category of pharmacy medicines which can only be sold in registered pharmacies, by or under the supervision of a pharmacist. However, the precise distinction between OTC and prescription depends on the legal jurisdiction.

Medication information for consumers

Medication guides, or labels are given by the pharmacist with every prescription. It generally includes description, clinical pharmacology (pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics), clinical trials, indications and usage, contraindications, warnings, precautions, adverse reactions, dosage and administration, overdosage, how supplied, storage, revision date and manufacturer and distributor.

United States Food and Drug Administration approved labels

European Union

United Kingdom

Compliance with taking medications

For more information, see: Patient compliance.


For more information, see: Polypharmacy.

Polypharmacy: suggests that multiple use of prescribed and non-prescribed medications, (use of 5 or more), can have adverse effects on the recipient.

Drug toxicity

For more information, see: Drug toxicity.

Unfortunately, drugs may also cause drug toxicity (also called drug-related side effects and adverse reactions or adverse drug event).

Storage and expiration date

Many drugs, but not epinephrine in EpiPen, may be effective after their expiration date.[4]

Promotion of medications by industry

Off label promotion of medications is problematic.[5]

Free samples

Free samples of medications provided to the offices of health care providers may be problematic.[6] The provision of free samples by doctors is decreasing but is more common in regions of high Medicare expenditures.[7]


Some content on this page may previously have appeared on Wikipedia.


  1. Haas JS, Phillips KA, Gerstenberger EP, Seger AC (2005). "Potential savings from substituting generic drugs for brand-name drugs: medical expenditure panel survey, 1997-2000.". Ann Intern Med 142 (11): 891-7. PMID 15941695[e]
  2. Hochman M, Hochman S, Bor D, McCormick D (2008). "News media coverage of medication research: reporting pharmaceutical company funding and use of generic medication names.". JAMA 300 (13): 1544-50. DOI:10.1001/jama.300.13.1544. PMID 18827211. Research Blogging.
  3. Duijnhoven, Ruben G.; Sabine M. J. M. Straus, June M. Raine, Anthonius de Boer, Arno W. Hoes, Marie L. De Bruin (2013-03-19). "Number of Patients Studied Prior to Approval of New Medicines: A Database Analysis". PLoS Med 10 (3): e1001407. DOI:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001407. Retrieved on 2013-03-21. Research Blogging.
  4. Anonymous (2009) Drugs Past Their Expiration Date The Medical Letter
  5. Kesselheim AS, Mello MM, Studdert DM, 2011 Strategies and Practices in Off-Label Marketing of Pharmaceuticals: A Retrospective Analysis of Whistleblower Complaints. PLoS Med 8(4): e1000431. DOI:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000431
  6. Chimonas S, Kassirer JP (2009). "No more free drug samples?". PLoS Med 6 (5): e1000074. DOI:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000074. PMID 19434227. PMC PMC2669216. Research Blogging.
  7. Campbell EG, Rao SR, DesRoches CM, Iezzoni LI, Vogeli C, Bolcic-Jankovic D et al. (2010). "Physician professionalism and changes in physician-industry relationships from 2004 to 2009.". Arch Intern Med 170 (20): 1820-6. DOI:10.1001/archinternmed.2010.383. PMID 21059976. Research Blogging.