Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are medicines that may be sold directly to a consumer without a prescription from a healthcare professional, as compared to prescription drugs, which may be sold only to consumers possessing a valid prescription. In many countries, OTC drugs are selected by a regulatory agency to ensure that they are ingredients that are safe and effective when used without a physician's care. OTC drugs are usually regulated by active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), not final products. By regulating APIs instead of specific drug formulations, governments allow manufacturers freedom to formulate ingredients, or combinations of ingredients, into proprietary mixtures. The term over-the-counter may be somewhat counterintuitive, since, in many countries, these drugs are often located on the shelves of stores like any other packaged product. In contrast, prescription drugs are almost always passed over a counter from the pharmacist to the customer.
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