These are natural products or synthetic chemicals that can alter the way in which the body works, or be used to prevent or treat disease. One or more drugs, combined with stabilisers, colourings, and other ingredients, make(s) up a medicine for practical use in treating patients. (See DEPENDENCE; MEDICINES.) In Britain, the supply of drugs is controlled by the Medicines Act. Some drugs are available only on prescription; some both on prescription and over the counter; and some are not available on NHS prescription. When enquiring about drugs that a patient is taking, it is essential to ask about all items bought over the counter and any herbal or traditional remedies that might be used, as these can interact with other prescribed drugs (see DRUG INTERACTIONS) or aﬀect the patient’s presenting complaints. Each drug has a single generic name, but many will also have several proprietary (brand) names. It is often much cheaper to prescribe the generic form of a drug, and many doctors do so. Many hospitals and general practices in the United Kingdom now provide a list of suggested drugs for doctors to prescribe. If a doctor wishes to use a drug not on the list, he or she must give a valid reason.
Prescriptions for drugs should be printed or written clearly in ink and signed and dated by the prescriber (computer-generated facsimile signatures do not meet legal requirements). They should include the patient’s name, address and age (obligatory for children under 12), the name of the drug to be supplied, the dose and dose frequency, and the total quantity to be supplied. Any special instructions (e.g. ‘after food’) should be stated. There are special regulations about the prescription of drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1985 (see CONTROLLED DRUGS). A pharmacist can advise about which drugs are available without prescription, and is able to recommend treatment for many minor complaints. Information about exemption from prescription charges in the NHS can be obtained from health visitors, general practitioners, or social security oﬃces.