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Last Updated on March 12, 2024 by admin

Did you know that the global pharmaceutical industry is worth around $1250 billion?

The pharma industry handles research, diagnosis, and treatment for every citizen. Prescribing drugs is only a tiny proportion of what goes on in the world of pharma.

What you may not realize is the vast number of types of prescription drugs available. There are 51 different classifications and thousands of sub-categories of medication.

Read on to find out more.


Analgesics (painkillers) are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs. The sub-categories of painkillers are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids.

The most well-known drugs in this category are:

  • Naproxen
  • Diclofenac
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Tramadol
  • Codeine

Some can be bought over the counter, but many are highly controlled, and a prescription (Rx) is needed. The most potent painkillers tend to be expensive. Shopping with online pharmacies is the best option if you’re looking for Rx discounts.

Anti-Addiction Agents

Anti-addiction agents are regularly prescribed for crisis management, detox, and long-term use. The sub-categories of anti-addiction agents are:

  • Alcohol deterrents
  • Opioid dependence treatments
  • Opioid reversal agents
  • Smoking cessation agents.

The most well-known drugs in this category are Naltrexone, Buprenorphine, and Nicotine.


This is one of the largest drug categories. There are hundreds of available antibacterials available. There are nine sub-categories that span every type of bacterial infection.

The most widely prescribed antibiotics are

  • Amoxicillin
  • Ampicillin
  • Penicillin
  • Clarithromycin
  • Trimethoprim
  • Nitrofurantoin.

These used to be prescribed without a second thought. Now, concerns about antibiotic resistance mean they’re less widely prescribed.


Around 10 percent of Americans take anti-depressants, and many people believe they are over-prescribed. Anti-depressants often lose effect with long-term use, and patients will usually trial several. Thus, there’s been a market for developing many different types.

There are four main categories of anti-depressants. These are Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors, SSRIs, Tricyclics, and “Other”). The most well-known anti-depressants are:

  • Sertraline
  • Amitriptyline
  • Mirtazapine
  • Quetiapine.

Anti-depressants aren’t just used to help treat mental disorders. They can also treat chronic pain conditions.

Blood Glucose Regulators

Around 34 million Americans now have diabetes. Although blood glucose regulators used to be a very small part of the pharma industry, now they’re one of the most utilized.

The sub-categories are Antidiabetic agents, Glycemic agents, and Insulins. The most commonly prescribed drugs are Metformin, Glucagon, several variations of Insulin.

Cardiovascular Agents

Cardiovascular agents are lifesaving drugs for many people. There are both long-term management drugs and acute rescue cardiovascular drugs.

There are hundreds of approved cardiovascular drugs. Most of which are only used by doctors in a hospital.

The most well-known drugs in this category are:

  • Clonidine
  • Phenylephrine
  • Benazepril
  • Candesartan
  • Acebutolol
  • Propanolol
  • Amlodipine
  • Furosemide.

Many people with heart disease can live with a full life expectancy when taking certain cardiovascular agents.

Central Nervous System Agents

This is a broad category of drugs designed to treat any disorders relating to the central nervous system. This includes Multiple Sclerosis, ADHD, and Fibromyalgia.

There are five sub-categories and several well-known drugs, including:

  • Gabapentin
  • Pregabalin
  • Clonidine
  • Methamphetamine.

Although many people receive prescriptions for these drugs, most are highly controlled. You’ll usually need a specialist diagnosis before receiving these drugs as they have a high potential for abuse.

Hormonal Agents

Endocrine (hormonal) disorders are one of the most common problems faced by American’s in the modern world. The main conditions affect the thyroid, adrenals, and pituitary gland.

There are several sub-categories and hundreds of drugs that can be prescribed for hormonal intervention. Interestingly, vaccinations are also included in this category.

Sleep Disorder Agents

Around four percent of Americans have a prescription for sleeping disorder tablets. There are twelve approved drugs to help with this issue. Most of them are sedatives including:

  • Flurazepam
  • Zolpidem
  • Quazepam

However, these drugs also cover disorders where people sleep too much. Drugs like Modafinil are used for narcolepsy and shift-work sleep disorder, to prevent people from falling asleep at inappropriate times.

Some people even end up with a sedating prescription for the evening and a stimulatory prescription for the morning.

A few of these drugs can be issued by a general doctor, but for a Modafinil prescription, you’ll usually need to see a specialist.

Rare Types Of Prescription Drugs

Although we’ve already covered the most commonly prescribed drug categories, there are many more. This is just one hint about why it takes five years to get a medical degree.

Below is a list of the remaining categories of prescription medications on the market:

  • Anesthetics
  • Anti-convulsants
  • Antidementia agents
  • Antiemetic
  • Antifungal
  • Anti-gout agents
  • Anti-inflammatory agents
  • Anti-migraine agents
  • Anti-myasthenic agents
  • Anti-mycobacterial agents
  • Anti-neoplastics
  • Anti-parasitics
  • Anti-parkinson agents
  • Anti-psychotics
  • Anti-spasticity agents
  • Antivirals
  • Anxiolytics
  • Bipolar agents
  • Blood products
  • Dental and Oral Agents
  • Dermatological Agents
  • Gastrointestinal Agents
  • Genetic or enzyme disorder
  • Genitourinary agents
  • Immunological agents
  • Inflammatory bowel disease agents
  • Metabolic bone disease agents
  • Ophthalmic agents
  • Otic agents
  • Respiratory tract agents
  • Skeletal muscle relaxants

Although all these drugs exist, they aren’t all designed for patient use. Some are only used in a clinical environment. For example, an anesthetic prescription would never be given directly to the patient. Instead, it’d be written in the patient’s name and dispensed to an anesthesiologist.

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Types Of Prescription Drugs Explained

That’s everything you need to know about the types of prescription drugs available today. Although healthcare is constantly evolving, this is what’s on the market in 2022.

Now, next time you get a new prescription, you’ll be in a better position to work out which type of drug you’ve got.

Did you find this article interesting? If so, make sure to check out our other posts for all things health, lifestyle, home, and more.

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Olivia Rodriguez
Olivia Rodriguez is a registered dietitian and health coach with a passion for helping people lead healthier lives. With over 8 years of experience in the field, Olivia has worked with individuals and families to develop personalized nutrition and wellness plans that promote optimal health and well-being. She is a frequent contributor to health and wellness publications and has written extensively on topics such as plant-based nutrition, weight management, and chronic disease prevention. Olivia believes that good nutrition is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle, and her mission is to help people make sustainable changes that improve their health and happiness. When she's not working with clients or writing, Olivia enjoys practicing yoga, hiking, and exploring new healthy food options.