Is self-medicating a good idea?

WITH medications readily available off-the-shelf here in Australia, Danielle Frazzetto examines the risks of self-medicating and when you should seek medical advice.

Care should be taken when buying off-the-shelf medication. Photo: Dima V

Medicine regulation and availability is very different in Australia compared to countries overseas.

Australia has a unique medication scheduling system where drugs require regulatory control over their availability and are grouped together to protect public health and safety.

There are ten schedules in which medicines are grouped and supervised but five of these schedules are most common, including:

    • Unscheduled- These medicines are for minor conditions and are open to sale.
    • Schedule 2 (S2)- These are Pharmacy medicines, which are supplied through pharmacies and may require advice from the pharmacist.
    • Schedule 3 (S3)- These are Pharmacist Only medicines that must be advised by the pharmacist for safe use. These medicines do not require prescription from the doctor.
    • Schedule 4 (S4)- These are Prescription Only medicines, which can only be obtained in a pharmacy with a prescription from a doctor.
    • Schedule 8 (S8)- These are Controlled Drugs, which are restricted due to addiction, abuse, misuse and physical or psychological dependence.


Unscheduled medicines are most commonly used and certain mild forms of these medicines can be purchased in supermarkets.

These types of medicines range from pain relief and flu relief to anti-inflammatories and some vitamins.

Though these medicines are of low risk, care should still be taken before self-medicating.

With 40 years experience as a pharmacist, Joe Cichello has seen a dramatic change over the years in the sale of off-the-shelf medications in Australia.

“Forty years ago you could only buy things like Panadol and Aspirin off-the-shelf, but more and more, the range of drugs and medications has increased,” Mr Cichello said.

Mr Cichello said care should be taken when buying medication off-the-shelf, and urged people to seek advice from places like pharmacies if unsure.

He said medications such as anti-inflammatories, Nurofen and Advil, can trigger allergies and asthma or cause stomach ulcers for some people.

“It is very important that people are made aware before taking medications like that, the dangers of taking them inappropriately,” he said.

Mr Cichello has come across instances whereby customers have wrongly diagnosed their symptoms and purchased inappropriate medicines.

“Some customers who buy something from the supermarket come to us, and we realise after asking them a few questions that they’re taking something inappropriate or ineffective for their symptoms,” he said.

He advises that those self-medicating should ask themselves several questions before and after purchasing medications off-the-shelf.

“Customers need to know, whether they are using the medication appropriately and for the right conditions, and whether the medicine will interact with other medication they may be taking,” he said.

Some things to bear in mind when self-medicating:

    • Many people suffer from allergies and asthma – and medications, especially anti-inflammatories can trigger symptoms.
    • Common medications such as anti-inflammatories are for short term use only and therefore these medicines should be advised and supervised by a professional.
    • Consumers should always be certain that they are not misdiagnosing their symptoms before purchasing medications.

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