There are a number of laws governing the sale of drugs. Although this is not the right place to begin a comprehensive survey of the existing legislation it will perhaps be useful if I explain something about the ways in which different drugs are controlled.

The simplest dividing line is the one which separates the drugs which can be purchased freely without a doctor’s prescription and the drugs which can only be obtained with a prescription. Naturally, any drug in the first category must inevitably also be in the second category. In other words, doctors can prescribe all the drugs which can be bought freely over the counter in addition to the drugs that cannot be bought freely. Aspirin, for example, is often prescribed by doctors as a mild painkiller and an anti-inflammatory drug but it is readily available without a prescription and I doubt if there are many homes in the country in which there is not a bottle of aspirin tablets.

Sometimes the very same brands of medicines that are prescribed can be bought. For example, many of the drugs which are taken to alleviate indigestion, gastritis and other stomach troubles are available both with and without a prescription. You can buy Aludrox and Asilone quite freely and these are the very brands of antacid commonly prescribed by family doctors.

The group of drugs that can only be obtained with a doctor’s prescription includes powerful painkillers, drugs for the treatment of cancer, tranquillizers and antibiotics. This group is further divided. The most powerful and potentially most dangerous drugs are subject to the most stringent controls and have to be prescribed and dispensed with particular care.

The group of drugs that can be obtained without a prescription, are also divided into different categories. Some are available only from a chemist’s shop where a qualified chemist is in attendance; some are available from general stores and supermarkets; and a third group, available in limited quantities only, are available from automatic machines. Naturally, all the drugs in the third group are included in the second category and all the drugs in both these categories are included in the first category. So the range of drugs available from a chemist’s shop is fairly wide whereas the range of drugs available from a supermarket or public house dispensing machine is severely limited.

The laws which control the groups into which drugs are placed are complex and ever changing. Inevitably this means that it has not been practicable to describe precisely the legal categories of all the drugs available. However, all the products mentioned are available without a prescription at the present time and are likely to remain widely available. They can, furthermore, be obtained from any qualified pharmacist or from a chemist’s shop where a pharmacist is in attendance. And I do recommend that except in an emergency all home medicines are purchased from such a shop.

Finally, if you are regularly taking a medicine prescribed by a doctor and your supply runs out while you are away from home, or when your doctor is not available, you may be able to obtain a small supply from a pharmacist to last for three days (or for five days if the three days includes a public holiday) as long as your drug is not on a ‘controlled’ list and you can persuade the pharmacist that your need is genuine.