What Is a Drug?
Broadly speaking, a drug is any substance other than food intended to affect the structure or any function of the body (1).
Drug As a Medication
According to the United States Federal Drug Agency (FDA), a drug is an article (substance) intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation (lessening), treatment or prevention of disease, recognized in the official United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) (2), Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States, or official National Formulary (1).
In United States, every product has to get FDA approval before it is allowed to be marketed as a drug.
Terms medication or medicine are commonly used for drugs used in medicine to prevent confusion with illegal drugs.
NOTE: A term drug is also used for personal hygienic items, like toothpaste or shampoo, available in drug stores, which, obviously, are not the same as pharmacies – shops that sell medications.
1. Prescription Drugs
Prescription drugs can be obtained in a doctor’s office, hospital or pharmacy, only when prescribed by a doctor (physician).
Example: tetracycline, an antibiotic, available as capsules.
2. Non-Prescription, Over The Counter (OCT) Drugs
Non-prescription, over the counter (OCT) drugs are available in pharmacies and food stores without prescription. In United States, these drugs also require FDA approval before marketing and are, as such, considered as effective and safe.
Example: aspirin, a pain-killer, available as tablets.
A nutritional supplement (from Latin supplere= to complete) is a substance intended to enhance the diet or to replace a deficient nutrient. Supplements are available as over the counter drugs or remedies.
Example: vitamin C tablets, iron pills.
A term remedy is derived from Latin re- = again, and mederi = to heal, meaning something what heals. The term is used as opposed to a drug, and refers to a non-prescription healing aid. There is often much confusion as to what can be categorized as a home remedy – is it the traditional mix of herbs or spices, superstition that certain practices can relieve illness or means of treating an ailment that may not involve ingesting any substance.
The reality is that all of these can be called a home remedy. However, home remedies in this day and age often involves non-prescription substances that can be concocted in the home environment and help with providing some symptomatic relief. It is often not based on any scientific premise (rationalist) but rather on experience over years, decades or even centuries (empirical). Less often, a home remedy may also be considered to be physical measures that do not involve ingesting any concoction. Using a rigid stick as a splint, for example, is one way of immobilizing a limb and can be considered as a home remedy.
Home remedies include certain foods, drinks, ointments, compresses, baths, splints, and so on.
Remedies are NOT the same as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. There are no rules that would determine which product may or may not be called a remedy, and what may or may not be its ingredients. On the other hand, an over-the-counter drug ingredients are strictly regulated by FDA (US Federal Drug Administration).
Home remedies are also NOT homeopathic remedies, herbal medicines or nutritional supplements. These substances often need to be specially prepared and this cannot be done in the home environment. However a herbal remedy that does not involve any specific preparation method according to a pharmacopoeia will fall under the category of a home remedy.
A home remedy should be used with caution. By providing some symptomatic relief, it can also delay a patient from seeking proper medical treatment. This can lead to a host of complications. In addition, certain home remedies can have potent drug interactions if other medication are used simultaneously thereby compromising medical care. Some patient may also stop using prescribed medicines (compliance) to opt for home remedies in the belief that these are gentler and more effective.
Synonyms: cure, restorative, counteraction, reparation, redress, relief, aid, help, assistance.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on September 10, 2012