Pharmacy Technician Programs
Pharmacy Technician Programs

Pharmacy Guide: A Prescription Drug Glossary


Pharmacists have a unique position. They need to work with doctors in filling the orders for drugs that are given. Pharmacists also need to communicate with the patients who receive prescription drugs. They need to be able to explain what the drugs do and any possible side affects. Finally, Pharmacists also work with insurance companies and help to determine what the insurance coverage is for the prescription.

Because of these various interactions, Pharmacists have a vocabulary that is unique to their profession. Here are a few of the commonly used terms and definitions that are used by Pharmacists when talking about prescription drugs:

  • Agonist – A molecule that is frequently chemically and structurally comparable to an additional molecule and acts in a similar chemical manner with a like result.
  • Antagonist – Is a molecule that is often chemically and structurally related to another molecule or its receptor and behaves in a way that lessens the effectiveness of the other molecule by impeding its action.
  • Antibiotic – A class of medicine used to care for infection by disease-causing bacteria. Antibiotics are not helpful for treating viral infections.
  • Antiviral – A type of medication used to treat an infection from disease-causing viruses.
  • Antidepressant – A class of drugs used to treat symptoms of depression. Among the most commonly prescribed are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which boost levels of the brain chemical serotonin.
  • Adherence Rate – Refers to the percentage of consumers who take their medications as directed.
  • Contraindication – A factor or medical condition that increases the risk of side effects to a medication or other medical intervention in a particular patient.
  • Clinical Trial – The scientific testing of a drug in a human to determine its safety and effectiveness.
  • Dietary Supplement – Are vitamins, minerals, or plant resulting substances taken in addition to a person’s regular diet.
  • Drug Interaction – An effect in the body that happens when two or more drugs are in the body at the exact same time and one causes an affect on the action of the other.
  • Drug Delivery – The means by which drugs are given, including oral (pills), injection, topical gels (rubbed on the skin), nasal sprays, or inhaled methods.
  • Drug Discovery – The procedure by which pharmaceutical researchers identify substances that could have a health benefit and be the foundation for a medication.
  • Enteric Coating – A coating on the surface of a pill that delays its absorption into the digestive tract.
  • Enzyme – A protein that speeds up or slows down a chemical reaction in a body.
  • FDA Approval – Official permission issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowing a drug manufacturer to market a new prescription drug for a specific health benefit).
  • Formulary – A list of medications approved by the health insurers to be used by its beneficiaries.
  • Generic Drug – Less expensive version of a brand-name drug. The manufacturer of a generic drug must prove to the FDA that it contains the same active ingredient and effect in the body as the normal brand name version.
  • Maximum Useful Dose – The dose point of a drug beyond which it offers no extra benefit and, potentially could have an increased risk of side effects.
  • Medicare Part D – The federally subsidized prescription drug plan for Medicare beneficiaries in the United States.
  • Medication Error – Errors in the dose or type of drug given to a patient, whether in a hospital, pharmacy, home, medical office, clinic, or any other location where medications are prescribed, dispensed or administered.
  • Minimum Effective Dose – The dose of a medication that provides necessary benefit for the condition being treated, with minimal side effects.
  • Off-Label Prescribing – The legal practice of prescribing drugs for a reason not specified in the approved FDA indication.
  • Over-The-Counter Drugs – Drugs that can be purchased without any prescriptions.
  • Pharmacist – A health professional trained to get ready and distribute drugs and educate patients about the risks and benefits of the drug.
  • Pharmacologist – A scientist who studies the effects of medications.
  • Placebo – An inactive pill or medical method with no anticipated therapeutic value, often used in a clinical research study for comparison as a baseline against which to measure the effects of a drug study.
  • Post-Marketing Surveillance – Studies conducted after FDA approval to monitor for unknown or unanticipated side effects of a medication.
  • Side Effect – An unwanted or harmful effect of a drug. Also known as an adverse drug effect or reaction.