Over-the-counter (nonprescription) drug products play an increasingly vital role in America's health care system. OTC drugs are defined as drugs that are safe and effective for use by the general public without seeking treatment by a health professional.
FDA's review of OTC drugs is primarily handled by CDER's Office of Drug Evaluation IV. The Nonprescription Drug Advisory Committee meets regularly to assist the agency in evaluating issues surrounding these products. This committee has played a major role in the growth of prescription to OTC switches in recent years.
Because there are over 300,000 marketed OTC drug products, FDA reviews the active ingredients and the labeling of over 80 therapeutic classes of drugs, for example analgesics or antacids, instead of individual drug products. For each category, an OTC drug monograph is developed and published in the Federal Register. OTC drug monographs are a kind of "recipe book" covering acceptable ingredients, doses, formulations, and labeling. Many of these monographs are found in section 300 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Once a final monograph is implemented, companies can make and market an OTC product without the need for FDA pre-approval. These monographs define the safety, effectiveness, and labeling of all marketing OTC active ingredients.
New products that conform to a final monograph may be marketed without further FDA review. Those that do not conform must be reviewed by the New Drug Application process. A drug company may also petition to change a final monograph to include additional ingredients or to modify labeling.
Additional regulatory information on OTC Drugs is included on this page:
For more information about nonprescription drugs, visit the Office of Drug Evaluation IV.
Guidance documents represent the Agency's current thinking on a particular subject. These documents are prepared for FDA review staff and applicants/sponsors to provide guidelines to the processing, content, and evaluation/approval of applications and also to the design, production, manufacturing, and testing of regulated products. They also establish policies intended to achieve consistency in the Agency's regulatory approach and establish inspection and enforcement procedures. Because guidances are not regulations or laws, they are not enforceable, either through administrative actions or through the courts. An alternative approach may be used if such approach satisfies the requirements of the applicable statute, regulations, or both. For information on a specific guidance document, please contact the originating office.
- Over-the-Counter Drug Guidances (search Over-the-Counter in the box above the table)
- Guidance for Industry: National Uniformity for Nonprescription Drugs - Ingredient Listing for OTC Drugs (PDF - 74KB) (issued 4/1998). Describes how active and inactive ingredients must appear on OTC labels.
In the Federal Register of 2/27/1997 (62 FR 9024), FDA proposed a rule that would establish a standardized format for the labeling of OTC drug products. The rule is intended to make OTC drug product labeling easier to read and understand. The proposed rule includes a standardized format for listing the name and the quantity per dosage unit (or, when appropriate, the proportion) of each active ingredient. Docket No. 98N-0337 Over the Counter Human Drugs Labeling Requirements is a collection of comments on the proposed rule submitted by the public, as well as FDA responses, meeting minutes, and other related materials.
- Over-The-Counter Human Drugs; Labeling Requirements: Final rule (PDF - 1.3MB) (effective 4/16/1999). This final rule establishes a standardized format and standardized content requirements for the labeling of OTC drug products. All OTC drug products are required to carry the new, easy-to-read format and the revised content requirements within prescribed implementation periods.
The final regulations published in the Federal Register are collected in the Code of Federal Regulations. The CFR is divided into 50 titles which represent broad areas subject to Federal regulations. FDA's portion of the CFR interprets the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and related statutes. Section 21 of the CFR contains all regulations pertaining to food and drugs. The regulations document all actions of all drug sponsors that are required under Federal law. Regulations of particular interest to OTC applicants include:
OTC Drug Products for Existing Monographs
- 21 CFR Part 330 - Over the-Counter (OTC) Human Drugs Which are Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective and not Misbranded. An OTC drug listed in subchapter 330 is generally recognized as safe and effective and is not misbranded if it meets the conditions of 330.1 and each of the conditions contained in the specific final monograph. As a basis for the scientific review of OTC ingredients, the CFR states definitions of safety, effectiveness, and labeling.
- 21 CFR Part 330.10 - Data regarding OTC monographs can be submitted by anyone, including a drug company, health professional, consumer, or citizen's group. If the submission is a request to amend an existing drug monograph or is an opinion regarding a drug monograph, it needs to be submitted in the form of a citizen petition or as correspondence to an established monograph docket. However, if no monograph exists, data must be submitted in the format as outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) section 330.1.
MaPPs (Manual of Policies and Procedures)
MaPPs are approved instructions for internal practices and procedures followed by CDER staff to help standardize the new drug review process and other activities, and define external activities as well. All MAPPs are available to the public. MAPPS of particular interest to OTC applicants include:
- 6020.5R (PDF -107KB) Good Review Practice: OND Review Management of INDs and NDAs for Nonprescription Drug Products (issued 7/13/2007)
Submissions Requesting Exemptions and Deferrals for Labeling Requirements
The Final rule for Over-the-Counter Human Drugs Labeling Requirements, 21 CFR 201.66 (PDF - 479KB) provides for any manufacturer, packer, or distributor to submit a written request for exemption or deferral of one or more labeling requirements.
- 21 CFR 201.66(e) (PDF - 479KB). Request for Exemption from OTC Labeling Format and Content Requirements. This section outlines the process for submission of exemption or deferral requests for drug products marketed under a monograph or an approved application.
- 21CFR 20.61. Trade secrets and commercial or financial information which is privileged or confidential. Anyone who submits records to the Government may designate part or all of the information exempt from disclosure under exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act.
An exemption and/or deferral request should include:
- A cover letter that includes the statement "Application for Exemption," and the NDA or ANDA number for approved drug products and a description of the drug product and shelf keeping unit(s) covered by the exemption request.
- A table of contents or index.
- A copy of the most recent marketed product label for products marketed under a monograph and the most recent approved labeling for drugs marketed under an NDA or ANDA.
- A complete listing of all requested exemptions from 21 CFR 201.66(c) and (d) (PDF - 479KB).
- An explanation why a particular requirement is inapplicable, impracticable, or is contrary to public health or safety. The sponsor should provide labeling in the Drug Facts format following 21 CFR 201.66 (PDF - 479KB) with annotation of the parts of the label where exemptions are requested.
- A representation of the proposed labeling, including any outserts, panel extensions, or other graphical or package techniques.
- The proposed labeling should include information on formatting, text style and text size as illustrated on 64 FR 13254 at 13293.
Submissions for Labeling Changes
For labeling changes submitted under 21 CFR 314.70 (c) or (d), the sponsor should provide:
- A cover letter stating that the submission includes new labeling in the Drug Facts for the drug product and shelf keeping unit(s).
- A table of contents or index.
- The most recent approved labeling.
- A representation of the proposed labeling, including and outserts, panel extensions, or other graphical or package techniques intended to be used with the product.
- The proposed labeling should include information on formatting, text type and text size as illustrated in 64 FD 13254 at 13293.
- Development and Regulation of OTC Drugs
- Office of Drug Evaluation IV (nonprescription drug products)
Status of OTC Rulemakings
- FAQs on the Regulatory Process of Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs
New Drug Application (NDA) Investigational New Drug (IND) Application Get to know the investigational new drug application (IND). This includes the types, laws and regulations, and emergency use of INDs. Abbreviated New Drug Application (ANDA) Abbreviated New Drug Applications and following the path to generic drug approval.
- Drug Application Regulatory Compliance
Surveillance: Post Drug-Approval Activities
- Information for Clinical Investigators Good clinical practice, human subject protection, informed consent, institutional review board, sponsor, trial, study, investigator, monitor, FDA, IRB