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Types of Prescription Drugs

How Many Types of Prescription
Drugs Are There?

There are literally thousands of medical conditions affecting humans that require specific treatment – and nearly just as many different types of prescription drugs available to treat those specific conditions. However, when it comes to the pharmacological classification of drugs, prescription drugs are narrowed down into generalized categories, known as drug classes. A drug class is defined as a group of medications that either work similarly, have a comparable chemical composition, or treat related conditions.

When it comes to diagnosing and treating a particular health condition, it’s up to your physician to provide you with a medical regimen, including prescription medications when it’s necessary. However, there are instances where it takes time – including trial and error – to find the right type of treatment. For example, some patients may have a sensitivity or allergic reaction to a medication that they don’t know about until they take it. In other instances, some medications may not be an effective course of treatment. These are just a few of the common obstacles people may face when trying to obtain the best course of treatment.

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Below, four commonly-prescribed classes of prescription drugs:

A class of drugs naturally occurring in the opium-producing poppy plant, opioid prescription medications are referred to as painkillers; they are also identified as narcotics. Prescription opioids are typically used to block pain signals between the brain and the body. A physician will often prescribe this class of prescription medication to treat moderate to severe levels of pain. Opioids are commonly used to treat pain associated with advanced cancer, after sustaining a serious injury, post-surgery, and some chronic pain conditions.

A few examples of prescription opioids include:

Codeine:Codeine may also be recognized by a brand or trade name, and prescribed in different forms depending on its intention of treatment. For example, aspirin and codeine (generic name) are known as brand names such as Aspalgin® and Codral Cold & Flu Original®.

Fentanyl:Medical fentanyl is available in several different forms/strengths, including transdermal patches (Durogesic® and generic versions), lozenges/lollipops (Actiq®), and intravenous injections (Sublimaze®).

Morphine:Brand names include Arymo ER, Kadian, MorphaBond ER, MS Contin

Oxycodone:Brand names include OxyContin, Oxaydo, Roxicodone, RoxyBond, Xtampza ER

Percocet:Brand names include Primlev, Roxicet, Endocet, Xartemis XR

Vicodin:Brand names include Vicodin HP, Vicodin ES, Vicodin HP, Lortab, Lorcet, Zydone, Xodol


A class of psychoactive drugs (sometimes called “benzos”), benzodiazepine prescription medications are commonly used to inhibit or depress certain central nervous system (CNS) processes; they are also identified as depressants. They are primarily prescribed for treating anxiety/panic attacks; however, they have been shown to be equally effective in treating other conditions, including seizures, depression, general anesthesia/sedation (prior to surgery), muscle relaxation, nausea/vomiting, and occasionally insomnia. Additionally, they are also utilized for managing the symptoms of alcohol and drug withdrawal.

A few examples of prescription benzodiazepines include (brand name followed by generic name):

Ativan (lorazepam)

Klonopin (clonazepam)

Restoril (temazepam)

Valium (diazepam)

Xanax (alprazolam)

Non-Benzodiazepine Sedatives

Non-benzodiazepine sedatives are used to manage insomnia. Although they interact with benzodiazepine-like receptors, non-benzodiazepine sedatives are structurally different. These drugs raise the levels of the amino acid Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). In turn, the GABA slows down brain activity, allowing the body and mind to relax, thus promoting sleep.

Some examples of non-benzodiazepine prescription medications include (generic name followed by brand names):

Eszopiclone (Lunesta)

Zaleplon (Sonata)

Zolpidem (Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar, Zolpimist, Intermezzo)



There are a wide variety of prescription stimulants which are prescribed for various conditions, including the treatment of ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), narcolepsy (a severe sleep disorder), binge eating disorders, and sometimes for depression when the condition has been unresponsive to other courses of prescription medication. However, due to the highly-addictive nature of stimulants, many doctors will try to avoid prescribing these drugs except for conditions where it is medically required.

Some examples of prescription stimulants include (generic name followed by brand names):

Amphetamine (Adderall, Benzedrine)

Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)

Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)

Methamphetamine (Desoxyn)

Methylphenidate (Concerta, Ritalin)

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Side Effects of Prescription Drugs: What Every Consumer Should Know

Whereas over-the-counter (OTC) medications – such as aspirin for a headache, antacids for indigestion, or cough drops for a sore throat – don’t require a prescription or trip to the doctor, prescription drugs require much more care and adherence to protocol. Because prescription medications are very specific in terms of what they treat, including their strength/dosage limitations, potential side effects, and even licensing issues, they can only be dispensed with a physician’s recommendation.

Here are a few key facts to keep in mind when obtaining and using prescription medication versus an OTC medication:

Rx required

Unlike OTC medications, prescription drugs require a doctor’s prescription. Furthermore, they can only be dispensed by your local drug store or online pharmacies who have been licensed by the appropriate licensing boards. This not only ensures your safety, but assures you are receiving the right medication and dosage information, as well as any instructions you need to follow from your physician when taking your meds. There are some medications that are highly addictive (and considered controlled substances); therefore, a prescription is legally required in order for it to be dispensed.

In addition, if you are already taking other medications, your pharmacist can answer questions regarding drug interactions with your new prescription, if any. They can also address other prescription-related concerns, since they will have your medical records on digital file and maintain direct contact with your physician’s office.

Solo scripts

Due to the very specific nature of prescription medications, your prescription is to be used by you – and you only. Since your doctor has written your script based on your particular medical condition (as well as your weight, age, overall health and other vital statistics), it’s not only unsafe for anyone else to use it, it may even be a health hazard – and in worst-case scenarios, fatal – if shared. Therefore, never share your medications with anyone else.

When to self-diagnose (or see the doc)

In some cases, it’s safe to say you can self-diagnose – if your stomach’s upset, you know that a bottle of the pink stuff will probably do the trick. However, we all know our own bodies – and when something’s more than “off”, it’s best to leave it to the professionals. Whether you have a very severe cold or flu symptom, bodily injury, or other physical ailment that isn’t “normal”, an OTC treatment obviously isn’t the answer – it’s time to see your doctor’s office. If it’s after-hours and you’re really not well, consider a walk-in clinic or the ER in the event of a medical emergency.

Ultimately, patients need to follow the prescription instructions as provided by their doctor, be certain to take the medications exactly as advised (e.g., once daily before meals, etc.), and let their doctor know if they are experiencing any negative side-effects due to their prescription medication and/or other drug-related complications. Individuals should never practice self-diagnosis or take prescription medications without a prescription or the express consent of their physician, nor should they take someone else’s prescription, as using medications in any of these ways can be dangerous (and in some cases, even deadly).

Cost Of Prescription Drugs:
Why It Pays To Stay Informed

There are many different factors that affect the cost of your prescription drugs – for example, did you know that the price may vary from pharmacy to pharmacy for the exact same medication? In fact, just because a drug store chain is well-known doesn’t guarantee they have the lowest prices. Pharmacies are actually allowed to set their own prices for medications – they simply have to stay within a certain range based on the type of medicine it is, as well as any agreements they have with your medical insurance plan. Other issues that can affect medicine prices include manufacturing shortages, as well as supply issues. So what’s a concerned consumer to do? If you find you’re constantly overpaying for your prescriptions, it’s time to find new ways to save with a pharmacy discount.

Prescription Drugs Discount:
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