Medication: A drug or other form of medicine


A medication (also referred to as medicine, pharmaceutical drug, or simply drug) is a drug used to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent disease. Drug therapy (pharmacotherapy) is an important part of the medical field and relies on the science of pharmacology for continual advancement and on pharmacy for appropriate management. Drugs are classified in multiple ways. One of the key divisions is by level of control, which distinguishes prescription drugs (those that a pharmacist dispenses only on the order of a physician, physician assistant, or qualified nurse) from over-the-counter drugs (those that consumers can order for themselves). Another key distinction is between traditional small-molecule drugs, usually derived from chemical synthesis, and biopharmaceuticals, which include recombinant proteins, vaccines, blood products used therapeutically (such as IVIG), gene therapy, monoclonal antibodies and cell therapy (for instance, stem-cell therapies). Other ways to classify medicines are by mode of action, route of administration, biological system affected, or therapeutic effects. An elaborate and widely used classification system is the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Classification System (ATC system). The World Health Organization keeps a list of essential medicines.

Historically, drugs were discovered through identifying the active ingredient from traditional remedies or by serendipitous discovery. Later chemical libraries of synthetic small molecules, natural products or extracts were screened in intact cells or whole organisms to identify substances that have a desirable therapeutic effect in a process known as classical pharmacology. Since sequencing of the human genome which allowed rapid cloning and synthesis of large quantities of purified proteins, it has become common practice to use high throughput screening of large compounds libraries against isolated biological targets which are hypothesized to be disease-modifying in a process known as reverse pharmacology. Hits from these screens are then tested in cells and then in animals for efficacy. Even more recently, scientists have been able to understand the shape of biological molecules at the atomic level, and to use that knowledge to design (see drug design) drug candidates. Modern drug discovery involves the identification of screening hits, medicinal chemistry and optimization of those hits to increase the affinity, selectivity (to reduce the potential of side effects), efficacy/potency, metabolic stability (to increase the half-life), and oral bioavailability. Once a compound that fulfills all of these requirements has been identified, it will begin the process of drug development prior to clinical trials. One or more of these steps may, but not necessarily, involve computer-aided drug design.

The regulation of drugs varies by jurisdiction. In some countries, such as the United States, they are regulated at the national level by a single agency. In other jurisdictions they are regulated at the state level, or at both state and national levels by various bodies, as is the case in Australia. The role of therapeutic goods regulation is designed mainly to protect the health and safety of the population. Regulation is aimed at ensuring the safety, quality, and efficacy of the therapeutic goods which are covered under the scope of the regulation. In most jurisdictions, therapeutic goods must be registered before they are allowed to be marketed. There is usually some degree of restriction of the availability of certain therapeutic goods depending on their risk to consumers. Depending upon the jurisdiction, drugs may be divided into over-the-counter drugs (OTC) which may be available without special restrictions, and prescription drugs, which must be prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner in accordance with medical guidelines due to the risk of adverse effects and contraindications. The precise distinction between OTC and prescription depends on the legal jurisdiction. A third category, "behind-the-counter" drugs, is implemented in some jurisdictions. These do not require a prescription, but must be kept in the dispensary, not visible to the public, and only be sold by a pharmacist or pharmacy technician. Doctors may also prescribe prescription drugs for off-label use – purposes which the drugs were not originally approved for by the regulatory agency. The Classification of Pharmaco-Therapeutic Referrals helps guide the referral process between pharmacists and doctors.

Governments worldwide have created provisions for granting access to drugs prior to approval for patients who have exhausted all alternative treatment options and do not match clinical trial entry criteria. Often grouped under the labels of compassionate use, expanded access, or named patient supply, these programs are governed by rules which vary by country defining access criteria, data collection, promotion, and control of drug distribution. Within the United States, pre-approval demand is generally met through treatment IND (investigational new drug) applications (INDs), or single-patient INDs. These mechanisms, which fall under the label of expanded access programs, provide access to drugs for groups of patients or individuals residing in the US. Outside the US, Named Patient Programs provide controlled, pre-approval access to drugs in response to requests by physicians on behalf of specific, or "named", patients before those medicines are licensed in the patient's home country. Through these programs, patients are able to access drugs in late-stage clinical trials or approved in other countries for a genuine, unmet medical need, before those drugs have been licensed in the patient's home country.

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