Medicines – classification

Medicines are carefully controlled to help ensure they are used correctly and safely. The following guide explains where medicines are available from depending on their classification.

In New Zealand medicines are classified into 3 main groups based on the Medicines Act 1981:

  • prescription medicine
  • restricted medicine (also referred to as 'pharmacist-only medicine')
  • pharmacy-only medicine (also referred to as 'pharmacy medicine')

When a medicine is approved in New Zealand, this classification is undertaken by Medsafe, a unit of the Ministry of Health, that assesses the safety and effectiveness of medicines. Find out more about Medsafe.

Prescription medicines

These medicines are available on prescription only and cannot be purchased without a valid prescription. Prescribers include doctors, nurse prescribers, midwives, dentists, opticians, pharmacist prescribers and vets.

Pharmacist-only medicines (also called restricted medicines)

These medicines are not available for self-selection from the pharmacy shelves, and the sale must be made by a pharmacist. When selling these medicines, pharmacists must fulfil some special requirements designed to make sure the medicine is right for you, that you are properly informed about the safe and correct use of your medicine, and that you know the medicine is not to be shared with others.

Pharmacists are required to record the sale of these medicines and would need to record details such as the date, name and address of customer, name and quantity of medicine purchased and name of the pharmacist involved in the sale.

Examples of some of the conditions which can be treated with pharmacist-only medicines:

  • cramp
  • eye infections
  • fungal infections of the toe or fingernails
  • hayfever or rhinitis
  • haemorrhoids
  • mouth ulcers
  • nausea caused by migraine
  • skin problems such as itching, rashes, inflamed fungal infections
  • thrush of the mouth
  • thrush of the vagina
  • warts.

Read more about pharmacist-only medicines.

Pharmacy medicines

These medicines can only be sold in licenced pharmacies such as some cough and cold medicines or larger pack sizes of pain relief medicines like paracetamol and ibuprofen. This sale can be made by any salesperson.  

Learn more

Classification database Medsafe NZ 
Bringing medicines into New Zealand Ministry of Health 
How to change the legal classification of a medicine in New Zealand Medsafe, 2017

Credits: Sandra Ponen, pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 07 Feb 2019