Specials medicines are bona fide medications, which are individually manufactured according to the instructions of a prescribing doctor, dentist or pharmacist. They are different to licensed medicines, which are produced in large quantities and completely identical units by pharmaceutical companies.
What is the difference to licensed medicines?
Licensed medications have undergone a very long research and evaluation process to be endorsed by the health authority of a country as safe, effective for a particular condition and offering value for money. The research underpinning this evaluation is extremely costly for pharmaceutical companies and they therefore try to get each medicine license as a ‘one size fits all’ product. Pharmaceutical companies do not produce variations of a licensed product as the latter would then need to be rigorously researched and evaluated again, which is not cost effective for them. Specials medicines are often unique preparation, which have not gone through the licensing process and are therefore classified as unlicensed medicines. However, they often include the same active ingredients as licensed medicines.
Why do we need specials medicines?
Standardized medicines produced for the average patient do not suit all patients equally. For example, some patients may be allergic against a certain preservative used in licensed medications and therefore require an individual preparation. The same can apply to dosage, way of administration or combination of active ingredients used in a pharmaceutical product. Therefore, specials medicines are individual preparations, but are otherwise prescribed in the same way as licensed medicines.
What is the difference to over-the-counter supplements?
Specials medicines are very different to over-the counter supplements or alternative remedies, which do not need to be prescribed by a doctor, dentist or veterinary doctor. Specials medicines are never directly sold to patients and can only be accessed through a health professional. Therefore, the prescribing doctor and to some degree the dispensing pharmacist and the manufacturer take full responsibility for the specials medication. This is in strong contrast to over the counter remedies where the responsibility lies with the purchaser and to some extent the manufacturer with respect to the potential effects of the product.
Who manufactures specials medications?
Historically, pharmacists themselves created tinctures, salves and potions. However, even if the pharmacists followed a set recipe a lot of variation could occur in a product created in this way. Additionally, modern medications need a very high level of quality control during manufacture, a lot of specialist equipment and are often covered by patent law. Therefore, modern medicines are normally manufactured through carefully controlled large-scale processes in pharmaceutical companies, which are designed to produce a very high level of standardization. Specials medicines are still sometimes created by specialist pharmacists, but more often by dedicated and licensed specials manufacturers. These are companies, which follow very stringent quality control measures and which are specifically licensed to produce medications. Often, specials medicines are accompanied by a Certificate of Analysis, which is signed by a person approved to do so. They must also conform to all national and EU regulations that apply to specials manufacture. Finally, specials manufacturers are responsible for the quality of their product and are therefore liable if the composition of a medicine is found to be incorrect in some way.
What should you do to access specials medications?
Specials medication must be prescribed by a qualified health professional. Therefore, if you think that a specials preparation would be more suitable for your needs as a patient you need to discuss this with the physician who is treating you. Patients themselves cannot access specials medications directly from manufacturers. Normally, specials manufacturers will not offer lists of available products as if they were selling alternative remedies nor would they directly deal with patients themselves.
How much are specials medicines used?
There are over 75,000 different recipes used for specials medications in the UK. In total specials medicines account for approximately 1% of all prescribed medications. They are often required for older patients, who may have special needs with respect to dosage or application processes. However, specials medicines may also be used by hospitals in cutting edge treatment for specific client groups or by veterinary doctors, who would like to use some well-known human medications for their furry patients. The area of specials medications is a growing one supported by recent research into individual’s different genetic make up, which suggests that we do not all absorb or react to the same medication in the same way. It can be expected that individually tailored medications will become a common phenomenon in the future of medicine.