Medicine schedules & availability
When a medicine is approved for sale in Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) decides how freely it should be available — for example, on prescription only, pharmacy only or sold in supermarkets. In general, the safer the medicine, and the more minor the condition it is approved to treat, the more freely the medicine is available (although there are some exceptions to this). A few other factors are also important.
Should a medicine be prescription only, pharmacy only, or available anywhere? These points help the TGA decide:
- seriousness of the condition it is meant or approved to be used for
- effects when used correctly
- side effects
- likelihood of accidental or deliberate misuse
- effects if taken accidentally by children
- effects of taking an overdose
- potential for people to become dependent on it
- benefits of making it easily available
Bear in mind that non-prescription medicines can still have side effects and interact with your other medicines. Some non-prescription medicines have specific rules about their availability:
- Pharmacist-only medicines are stored behind the pharmacist’s counter. You can buy them only after talking to a pharmacist to make sure they are appropriate and safe for you.
- Pharmacy-only medicines are stored on the open shelves in pharmacies. You do not have to seek advice from a pharmacist before buying them, but if you want advice you can ask for it.
Non-prescription medicines that do not fall into either of these categories can be sold in supermarkets, grocery stores, and health food stores as well as pharmacies. Complementary medicines are in this group.
In some cases, the amount of medicine in a packet may affect where and how it can be sold. As a result, small packets of some medicines are available in supermarkets and other retail outlets, but packets containing more tablets, or higher doses of the same medicine are available only in pharmacies. For example, supermarkets can sell paracetamol in packets of 25 tablets or less. However, packets of more than 25 tablets can be sold only in pharmacies.
Categories of medicines and where you can get them
When a medicine is approved for sale in Australia, it will be available in one of the following categories. These categories correspond to Government ‘Schedule’ levels (a national classification system that controls how medicines are made available to the public).
For more information, see TGA: Scheduling of medicines and poisons
|Available for general sale
|Can be sold in supermarkets, grocery stores, health food stores as well as pharmacies, with labels about safe use if needed||Cough and cold remedies, non-prescription pain relief such as aspirin and paracetamol, vitamins, herbal supplements|
|Available on the shelf at pharmacies. A pharmacist or pharmacy assistant must be available for advice if required||Diarrhoea medicines, antihistamines|
|Only available behind the counter at a pharmacy, but no prescription required. A pharmacist must be consulted||Hydrocortisone cream for skin irritations, asthma inhalers|
|Prescription-only medicine (Schedule 4)||Must be prescribed by an authorised healthcare professional. May be supplied in hospital or purchased from a pharmacy with a prescription||Contraceptive pills, antibiotics, strong pain relievers, heart and cholesterol medicines|
|Must be prescribed by an authorised healthcare professional, who may need another permit to prescribe these medicines. May be supplied in hospital or purchased from a pharmacy with a prescription.||Very strong pain relief medicines (e.g. morphine), medicines used to treat drug dependence (e.g. methadone)|