Prescription medicines

A prescription medicine is only available to you if a doctor writes a prescription requesting that this medicine be supplied to you. You then take the prescription to a pharmacist (chemist) to have the prescription filled and to collect the medicine.

Prescription medicines are an important part of treating and preventing illness. However, incorrect use of these medicines can make them unsafe. For example, not following instructions about the dose of a medicine, including when to take your medicines and for how long, can make you unwell.

Understanding and safely using your prescription medicines are important aspects of maintaining your health.

What is your medicine for?

Remember to always ask your doctor what condition your medicine has been prescribed for. In this way you will be able to better assess if the medicine is helping you.

You may like to ask your doctor to write down this information, along with when and how to take the medicine, especially if you find the small writing on medicine labels difficult to read.

Consumer medicine information (CMI)

An important source of information about some prescription medicines is the CMI — the consumer medicine information. This is a leaflet that can be supplied to you by your doctor or pharmacist.

You can also search for a medicine in myDr’s database of CMIs.

Many Australian prescription medicines have a CMI, but not all. The CMI is written in easy-to-understand language by the company that makes the medicine.

The CMI includes information about:

  • which conditions the medicine is used to treat;
  • possible side effects;
  • under what conditions the medicine should not be taken; and
  • any other precautions to follow while you are taking the medicine.

Remember to always ask your doctor or pharmacist if a CMI is available for your medicine. The CMI may be provided as a package insert, or as a computer print-out.

What is written on your prescription?

A prescription is a standard form that is used by doctors to prescribe medicines. A prescription will include the name and address details of you and your doctor, your Medicare number (unless it is a private prescription), and the date on which the prescription is written.

A relevant box will be marked if you hold a concession card or a safety net card, making you eligible for a concession on the cost of your medicines, or if you are eligible for repatriation pharmaceutical benefits, which again limits the amount you will pay for your medicines.

This information is followed by the details of the medicine you have been prescribed.

Your prescription is valid for 12 months after the date it is written. For Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) prescriptions, you will need to produce your Medicare card at the pharmacy if you wish to have your prescription filled.

If you have a Veteran’s card or concession card, you should also show these to your pharmacist. If you don’t have your card, you may need to pay a lot more for the medicine. If you are getting a script filled for someone else, remember to have their Medicare card (and Veteran’s card and/or concession card if applicable) with you at the pharmacy.

The tables below are a ready reference to help you understand some of the terms that may be written on your prescription.

What is written on your prescription about the medicine
 ExamplesMeaning
Brand nameAmoxilThe name given to the medicine by the sponsoring pharmaceutical company.
Generic name(amoxycillin)The name of the active ingredient in the medicine. This may sometimes be included in brackets after the brand name.
FormulationSyrup
Tablets
Capsules
Cream
Ointment
The physical form of the medicine. This will influence how you take the medicine.
Strength5 micrograms
20 mg (milligrams)
1 g (grams)
The amount of the medicine that is contained in each tablet or capsule, for example.
Concentration125 mg/5 mLUsed for non-solid forms of a medicine, such as liquids or creams, this notation tells you the amount of the medicine that is contained in a small, set portion of the formulation.

Read as 125 mg of active ingredient per 5 mL of medicine.
Dose*1 tab bid or 1 bd
1 tab tds
3 tabs mane
2 caps nocte
1 tab prn
Take 1 tablet twice daily
Take 1 tablet 3 times daily
Take 3 tablets in the morning
Take 2 capsules at night
Take 1 tablet as needed
QuantityAmoxil Tablets 250 mg 20



Amoxil Syrup 125 mg/5 mL 100 mL 1
You have been prescribed 20 Amoxil tablets, each with a strength of 250 mg.

You have been prescribed 1 x 100 mL bottle of Amoxil syrup containing 125 mg of the active ingredient in every 5 mL of the syrup.

Sometimes the quantity number may be preceded by the notation Qty or it may simply be a circled number.
NOTES. *Your pharmacist will interpret these abbreviated dosage instructions and write them in plain language on the adhesive label that will be attached to your medicine container when it is supplied to you.

 

What is written on your prescription about the supply of the medicine
 ExamplesMeaning
Brand substitution not permitted This box may be checked by your doctor (not by your pharmacist).If your doctor has left this box blank you can ask your pharmacist to supply you with the cheapest brand of this medicine, if more than one brand is available.**
RepeatsAmoxil Tablets 250 mg 20 Rpt 2The number of times that this medicine can be supplied to you from the use of this prescription.

You can have this prescription filled 3 times: that is, the first supply, when you will receive the medicine plus a repeat authorisation form, which authorises supply of the same medicine on 2 more separate occasions.
Government subsidised medicinesPBS

RPBS
If either box is checked the cost of your medicine is subsidised by the government’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) or the Repatriation PBS (RPBS), meaning you will pay only a standard prescription fee. If your medicine carries a brand price premium, an extra charge will be added to this fee, unless you are able to substitute a cheaper brand.
NOTES. **Among a group of equivalent brands, the active ingredient and the amount present in the product will be the same, although the brand name will be different and the cost may vary between brands. However, some people may still prefer one brand over the others, irrespective of the cost difference.

What is written on the pharmacist’s label?

When you have your prescription filled at a pharmacy, the pharmacist will attach an adhesive label, typed by the pharmacist, to the medicine’s container.

The information on this label is based on the information written on your prescription by your doctor. Importantly, it will include the dosage information, that is:

  • how much of the medicine you are to take;
  • when you are to take it; and
  • for how long.

For example, ‘Take ONE tablet three times a day for 7 days’ or ‘Apply to affected skin once daily.’

You will see that the dosage information typed on your medicine label no longer contains abbreviations written by the doctor, as shown in Table 1. However, if there is anything about the dose that you do not understand, you must ask your doctor or pharmacist, before taking the medicine.

For certain medicines the pharmacist may add extra advisory labels to the container. This additional information is often in the form of a brightly coloured sticky label. It is important that you strictly follow both the dosage instructions and the additional information contained on any advisory labels.

Examples of advisory labels include:

  • ‘This medicine should be taken on an empty stomach, at least half an hour before food or two hours after food’;
  • ‘Refrigerate, do not freeze’;
  • ‘Avoid eating grapefruit and drinking grapefruit juice while taking this medicine’; and
  • ‘This medicine may cause drowsiness and may increase the effects of alcohol. If affected do not drive a motor vehicle or operate machinery.’

Don’t forget . . .

  • Some medicines may interact when taken together, which can make you unwell or lessen the effect of your treatment. Always tell your doctor and pharmacist of all the medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines and complementary therapies, and ask whether the new medicine you have been prescribed will be safe to take with your existing medicines.
  • If there is anything about your medicines that you do not understand, ask your doctor, pharmacist or nurse.
  • Follow the storage instructions written on your medicine container.
  • Do not use a medicine beyond the expiry date printed on the container.
  • Do not share your prescription medicines with anyone else.
  • Do not take someone else’s prescription medicine.
  • Do not change the dose of your medicine or abruptly stop taking it without first checking with your doctor.
  • Ask your doctor about any side effects that may occur when taking the medicine.
  • Return to your doctor if your condition does not improve or worsens despite taking the medicine, or if you develop any unwanted side effects.
  • If you are taking several medicines long-term, ask your doctor or pharmacist to review all your medicines at least once a year.
  • If you are taking several medicines at the same time, ask your pharmacist about using a dosing aid, such as a pill container divided by days of the week and/or the time of day, to help you take your medicines safely.
  • A variety of smartphone apps are available that may help you to take your medicines regularly.
Last Reviewed: 13 May 2015
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References

1. Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). What’s on a medicine label? (updated 28 Oct 2014). http://www.tga.gov.au/consumers/information-medicines-label.htm (accessed May 2015).
2. National Prescribing Service (NPS). Find the active ingredient (updated 25 Oct 2012). http://www.nps.org.au/bemedicinewise/find_the_active_ingredient (accessed Jun 2012).
3. National Prescribing Service (NPS). Making wise choices about medicines (updated 25 Oct 2012). http://www.nps.org.au/topics/how-to-be-medicinewise/making-wise-choices-about-medicines (accessed May 2015).
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