Pharmaceutical drug

What Are Pharmaceutical Drugs?

A pharmaceutical drug is defined as medication used to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure an illness or disease. A pharmaceutical drug can also be referred to as a drug, medication, or medicine and includes countless types of drugs that are used in various aspects of healthcare. Pharmaceutical drugs are used worldwide and considered an integral part of the healthcare system.


Around the world and according to the various laws of each country, pharmaceutical drugs are typically classified into 2 different types. This includes over-the-counter (OTC) medications and prescription only medications (POM). OTC drugs can be purchased without a prescription or doctor recommendation, while POM drugs require a prescription from a licensed doctor or physician.

OTC Pharmaceutical Drugs

Over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs are widely available and can help with pain including: headache, muscle aches and pain, joint pain, sprains, and more. Common OTC pharmaceutical drugs include:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen
  • Cold medications
  • Decongestants
  • Antihistamines
  • Antidiarrheal medications
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Anti-fungal creams
  • Motion sickness medications

POM Pharmaceutical Drugs

Prescription only medications are used to treat several different physical and psychological problems and illnesses. Prescription pharmaceutical drugs are used to treat chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease, as well as conditions such as depression, anxiety, and cancer. Prescription drugs are commonly prescribed for pain management, as well as in the treatment of addiction. Common POM pharmaceutical drugs include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Antipsychotics
  • Opiates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Chemotherapy pills and drugs used to treat cancer
  • Medication for heart disease
  • Digestive system medications
  • Allergy medicines
  • Antibacterial and Antifungal medications
  • Antibiotics
  • Vaccines

Side Effects

There are several side effects associated with prescription drugs of all types, ranging from mild to severe. Some side effects are more common, while others only happen to a select number of individuals.

Common side effects of over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Pain
  • Skin reactions

There are also several side effects associated with countless prescription pharmaceutical drugs. These can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Skin irritations such as itching and rashes
  • Allergic reactions

More serious side effects that can occur with prescription pharmaceutical drugs include:

  • Respiratory problems
  • Increased blood sugar levels
  • Liver and kidney problems
  • Problems with vision
  • Abuse
  • Addiction
  • Brain infection or tumours
  • Coma
  • Death

Pharmaceutical Drug Abuse

There are several pharmaceutical drugs that are commonly abused, with many posing risk for dependency and addiction. Commonly abused pharmaceutical drugs include opioids, stimulants, benzodiazepines, non-prescription cold medications, and more. Some of these include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Hydrocodone (Percocet)
  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin)
  • Ritalin
  • Adderall
  • Temazepam (a benzodiazepine used to treat insomnia)

Pharmaceutical Drug Facts

  • Morphine was approved as a pharmaceutical drug in 1827. Aspirin was approved in 1899.
  • There are over 2 million Americans addicted to opioid painkillers.
  • In the UK, the number of prescriptions written for opioid painkillers has doubled from 12 million to 24 million in the last decade.
  • The US makes up 5 percent of the world’s population and consumes 75 percent of the world’s prescription pharmaceutical drugs.
  • The most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths include: methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

External Links

How Many Drugs has FDA Approved in its Entire History? New Paper Explains, Alexander Gaffney, RAC, RUPS

Prescription Drugs & Cold Medicines, National Institude on Drug Abuse

Over-the-counter medicines, Medline Plus

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