What are pharmaceutical drugs?

The terms pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical drugs encompass a variety of medicines used to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure disease. The pharmaceutical drugs section of the NADK addresses a subsection of these medicines, namely those with analgesic or sedative-hypnotic properties. This includes a range of pharmaceutical drugs that are available from various sources such as: 

  • Unscheduled Medicines: Available for general sale in supermarkets, grocery stores, health food stores and pharmacies, often with labels about safe use, (e.g., for non-prescription pain relief medicines). In the NADK, these drugs include some formulations of aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen.
  • Schedule 2 - Pharmacy medicines: Available on open shelves only at pharmacies, but a pharmacist or pharmacy assistant must be available for advice if required (e.g., larger packets of non-prescription pain relief medicines). In the NADK, these drugs include some formulations of aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen.
  • Schedule 3 - Pharmacist-only medicines: Only available from behind the counter at a pharmacy. No prescription is required but a pharmacist must be consulted before they are dispensed. In the NADK, these drugs include some formulations of ibuprofen and paracetamol.
  • Schedule 4 - Prescription-only medicines: Must be prescribed by an authorised healthcare professional and may be supplied in hospital or purchased from a pharmacy with a prescription. In the NADK, these include tramadol, codeine-containing medicines and most benzodiazepines.   
  • Schedule 8 - Controlled drugs: Must be prescribed by an authorised healthcare professional, who may need a permit to prescribe them. Drugs included in the NADK are opioids (but excluding formulations used for opioid substitution therapy) such as buprenorphine, codeine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone and tapentadol, and the benzodiazepines flunitrazepam and alprazolam.    

For more information about pharmaceuticals visit DrugInfo.

Source: Adapted from Nicholas, R., Lee, N., and Roche, A. Pharmaceutical drug misuse problems in Australia: Complex issues, balance responses (2011). National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA), Finders University, Adelaide.