Understanding Alberta drug schedules

Have you ever wondered why only certain medications are kept behind the counter?

The province of Alberta in conjunction with National Drug Scheduling Advisory Committee decides how drugs are scheduled. The schedule of the drug refers to the category that the drug falls into. There are different regulations that apply to each category. Since provinces have input into how drugs are scheduled, the regulations that apply to drugs may differ between provinces. Drugs are scheduled based on the risk of taking medications with or without the advice of a healthcare professional. Higher risk medications are placed in schedule 1 while lower risk medication are placed in schedule 3.

In Alberta we have three drug schedules:

Schedule 1: Drugs that require a prescription. (eg: Lipitor®, Tylenol® #3, Penicillin)

Schedule 2: Drugs that are available only from the pharmacist and do not require a prescription. These medications are found behind the counter (eg: Gravol®, Iron >30mg, Tylenol® #1). To promote safe drug use, a pharmacist ensures that patients are making appropriate selections. To accomplish this, a pharmacist must provide counseling if needed as well as document the sale. Pharmacists are required to ask for an Alberta Health care number and to make a patient profile in the computer.

Schedule 3: Drugs that are available without a prescription from the self selection area of a pharmacy (eg: Plan B®, vaginal yeast infection products). A pharmacist must be available if patients require advice.

Unscheduled: Drugs not listed in Schedule 1, 2 or 3 may be sold from any retail outlet. You can even find these drugs in a gas station. (e.g.: Tylenol, Aspirin, Ibuprofen)

Why are some drugs behind the counter even though they are listed in schedule 3? Eg. Plan B®

Pharmacies have the ability to store medication behind the counter if they believe that additional counseling is required, or if there is a risk of theft.

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