Top 10 Useful Non-Prescription Medicines

In many retail pharmacies, the over-the-counter section often takes up so much shelf space, making it difficult for consumers to locate products they want to purchase, or at times confuses them into making unwise purchases.  In my opinion, many of these products are not necessary and maybe a waste of consumers’ money.

Here are my top 10 non-prescription medicines that I personally consider to be absolutely essential and should be available from all retail pharmacies:

  1. Epi-Pen – When someone is having an anaphylactic allergic reaction, it’s nice to know you can run to a pharmacy to purchase this life saving medication to be administered ASAP.
  2. Diphenhydramine – By the same token, diphenhydramine (or commonly known as Benadryl) is an antihistamine that may be needed for many allergic reactions to manage severe pruritus and other symptoms
  3. Naloxone – again when someone is suspected to have opioid overdose, it is imperative that an opioid reversal agent such as Naloxone is available from pharmacies across Ontario.
  4. Nitroglycerine Spray – when an individual is suffering from a possible heart attack, it is good to know that anyone can walk into a pharmacy to buy a bottle of nitroglycerin spray. It is not kept on the shelf but does not require a prescription if deemed appropriate by a pharmacist’s assessment. It is another life saving treatment in cases of confirmed acute coronary syndrome.
  5. Insulins – While most people assume insulin is a prescription medication, it is indeed a schedule II medication in Ontario that can be purchased without a prescription.  For individuals with diabetic emergency or with blood sugars in the severe high range, having access to rapid acting insulin is critical for survival and to prevent complications (e.g. diabetic ketoacidosis).
  6. Aspirin – for individuals suspected to have acute ischemic stroke, taking aspirin immediately (e.g. within first 48 hours) have been shown to be beneficial to prevent further clotting events.
  7. Lice treatment – While lice infestation is not a life threatening event, it is a public health concern when spread quickly in the community. Hence, having treatment options available in a pharmacy without a prescription will ease access and offer prompt treatment.
  8. Pin worm treatment – By the same token, pin worm infections are common for toddlers and school age children and can spread quickly if not treated. By allowing affected individuals to seek treatment immediately can help contain the infection and prevent outbreak in the community.
  9. Smoking Cessation Products – Many smoking cessation products are available without prescription including Zyban and Champix in Ontario.  Again to improve access to smoking cessation products has beneficial implications given smoking is a risk factors for cardiovascular diseases and respiratory conditions.
  10. Analgesics – Finally, many analgesics including acetaminophen, ibuprofen and codeine at certain low doses are available without prescription to treat minor aches and pain.  There is some discussion to change the status of codeine from non-prescription to prescription medicine. I have mixed feelings about it. I rarely recommend Codeine for pain management. However for individuals with persistent post viral cough that is keeping people up at night, a small dose of Codeine may suppress the cough to allow a peaceful night of sleep.


So these are my personal top 10 non-prescription medicines that I think every pharmacy should stock. The rest of other products that occupy 90% of the over-the-counter shelves in a pharmacy are “nice-to-have” products.

What do you think? What are your top 10 non-prescription medicines in your opinion?

Thank you for reading my post!


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My name is Cynthia Leung and I am a practicing pharmacist in Kingston Ontario, Canada. This blog is for me to share my ideas, opinions and perspectives on how medications are used in our health care system. Note that these posts are my own opinions and do not represent the opinions of my current or former employers and / or organizations that I may belong to. Any possible case scenarios described in my posts would be modified to maintain patient confidentiality. This blog is not a platform for professional advise for patients or health care providers and the content is not meant to support any clinical decisions or replace professional opinions. Also the images are either taken or created by the author, or adapted with permission. I hope you will enjoy reading my posts!

2 thoughts on “Top 10 Useful Non-Prescription Medicines”

  1. Dont know if these are as essential, but OTC meds i might suggest are laxatives (eg lax a day), immodium/loperamide for diarrhea, hydrocortisone 1% for mild skin rashes, moisturizers especially with ceramide, cetirizine for less drowsy antihistamine, dextramethorphine` for cough, B12 tabs for lo B12, Vitamin D for prevention and treatment of D deficiency, melatonin for sleep disorders, morning after pill for prevention of pregnancy,, fluconazole for vaginal yeast infectios, clotrimazole cream for vaginal and skin yeast infections. electrolyte replacement solutions for childhood diarrhea. I’m sure there are more.

    Liked by 1 person

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