Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

The Levels of Medication: From Pharmacy-Only to Highly Controlled Substances

There are many different levels of medications, and depending on their characteristics, can only be sold in certain areas. The therapeutic goods administration (TGA) determines the availability and restrictions against each one against the following criteria:

  • safety of the medicine
  • 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 (NPS MedicineWise, 2016)

The best way to explain what is available where is by using a level-by-level ‘schedule’ explanation.

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 12.24.32 am

Image 1: Medicines are split into different groups called schedules Department of Health, 2015

So, at the lowest end of medicines are those that are unscheduled. Those that are safe to be sold in supermarkets or service stations; places where customers will not get advice. It is considered safest when the package size is relatively small (i.e up to 20 tablets for paracetamol) (Department of Health, 2013), with a very low dependence rate, and for treatment of unserious conditions. This category includes small packets of paracetamol, ibuprofen, vitamins, and cold & flu tablets.

The next level is schedule 2 (S2): pharmacy only. These medications, by law, are required to have Pharmacy Medicine labelled along the top of the product, and can only be sold in a licensed pharmacy. Examples of this are larger packets of paracetamol, gastrointestinal medications such as diarrhoea relief or worming tablets, or allergy relief.

Schedule 3 (S3) is Pharmacist only. The sale of these products must have involvement with a pharmacist. Regular use of these medicines can lead to addiction or medical problems; often a licence is recorded to monitor their use, ensuring that they are not taken too regularly, particularly those with the ingredients codeine or pseudoephidrine; these are ingredients known to create Methamphetamine: it is clear why we need to place a restriction on their sale.  Examples of pharmacist only medicines include Nurofen plus (ibuprofen with added codeine for extra pain relief) or Rikodeine (a strong cough suppressant).


Schedule 4 (S4) is Prescription only. These medicines can be accessed only with a valid prescription written by a doctor, dentist or nurse. This process ensures that a medical professional has assessed the individual and deemed the drug appropriate and safe to treat a condition. They feature a label displaying the strength, the specific dose for each specific patient, along with how long to take it, and if it should be taken with food. (Better Health Channel, 2016). Examples include antibiotics for infections, and Serequil, used to treat bipolar or schizophrenia.

Controlled substances (S8) are kept in a pharmacy safe at all times. These medicines are very strong and pose a threat to individuals if obtained incorrectly. An example is Endone, a very strong pain killer so strong it makes people drowsy and some light headed. Used by risk takers for recreational drug use, this drug has been kept under strict conditions to limit this kind of use.




Better Health Channel (2016) Prescription Medicines (online). Available from: [Accessed 5/5/16].

Department of Health (2015) Scheduling basics (online). Available from: [Accessed 5/5/16].

Department of Health (2013). Paracetamol: Changes to Pack Size (online). Available from: [Accessed 5/5/16].

NPS MedicineWise (2016) Medicine Schedules and Availability (online). Available from: [Accessed 5/5/16].



About jessthepharmacygirl

EES200 Student working in pharmacy for over 5 years. Still much to learn but so much already learned, and I thought it's the perfect opportunity to give some first-hand understanding on the topic.

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This entry was posted on May 8, 2016 by in Uncategorized.

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