Over-the-Counter (OTC)

OTC drugs are those sold “over-the-counter” the same as other products, as opposed to those that require a prescription.

While OTC is one of the Walmart acronyms that is used widely outside of retail, it’s a bit more complicated than some other terms, perhaps just because it’s been around longer.

In the 1870s, “over the counter” began to be used to mean securities or stock shares bought in a broker’s office rather than through a stock exchange. Around the same time, selling something “under the counter” showed up referring to an illicit transaction. In the 1920s, “over the counter” began to be used for medicines.

Now prescriptions are sold over the pharmacy counter, and some OTC drugs are kept under the pharmacist’s counter, but we still use “OTC.”

Common OTC drugs include

  • analgesics like aspirin and acetaminophen
  • cough medicines
  • allergy medications
  • sleep aids
  • preparations for skincare