Higher schedule doesn’t just affect where in a pharmacy you’ll find a medication Picture: Indianexpress

IF you've bought medicines before you will know that there are those you can't just grab off the shelf without speaking to your pharmacist. 

But you may still be wondering why certain medicines are easily available over the counter while others need a doctor's script?  

 The answer lies in medicines' schedule status.

What’s a medicine schedule?

Medicine schedule is a classification system used to define medicine's level of risks and benefits. As medicinal risks increase, so does the schedule – with South Africa’s highest schedule being S8.

Lorraine Osman, of the Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa, explains that scheduling is determined by a number of factors, including toxicity levels, safety. the illness it treats, the need for professional diagnosis, and the potential for dependency or abuse.

Pharmacists are trained to ask important questions when discussing different schedules of medication and to provide you with qualified and personalised care. 

What different schedules mean for consumers?

Schedule 0

According to the Medicines Control Council MCC,for a drug to be S0, it must be relatively safe to use without the need to consult a medical professional, and the symptoms for its use must be easily recognised by the patient. Aspirin, low dosages of paracetamol, and vitamins are usually S0. Because of their relative safety, S0 substances can also be sold in any store, and (along with S1 medicines) advertised directly to the consumer.

Schedule 1 & 2

These medicines are only available over the counter but they don’t require a prescription. While these medicines are meant to treat minor illnesses such as colds and coughs, these drugs can be addictive or dangerous when used incorrectly.

To ensure that these medicines are used safely, the patient’s personal details must be recorded (in the case of S2 substances) and guidance provided by a pharmacist or healthcare professional.

Schedule 3 & 4

These are only available with a prescription, and treat serious diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and bacterial infections. A patient needs a diagnosis from a health professional to receive such drugs. Repeat prescriptions are restricted to six months, except in an emergency. 

Schedule 5

 S5 medicines such as antidepressants or sedatives have a potential for abuse or dependence, and therefore needs medical diagnosis and strict management of a patient. Unlike S4 substances, repeat S5 prescriptions going beyond six months are permitted, but they’re tightly controlled.

Schedule 6

These drugs are are moderately to highly addictive and include narcotics and pain killers. This means that patients must be closely monitored, with firm professional control over their supply. Consequently, these drugs aren’t available on repeat prescriptions and their dispensing is limited to a 30-day supply at most.

Schedule 7

S7 substances such as heroin aren’t recognised for medicinal use apart from scientific study, and have a very high risk of dependence and abuse. As a result, their use is prohibited.

Schedule 8

These are central nervous system stimulants such as amphetamine, dexamphetamine and nabilone are the only S8 drugs in SA. These are strictly controlled substances with some proven medicinal value. But, due to their significantly high risk for dependency, they’re only available when access has been approved by the Director-General of Health and medical practitioners who have obtained special permission.

Adapted from press release