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Scheduling of medicines and poisons

3-minute read

All medicines and poisons in Australia are categorised by how freely they are made available to the public. Medicines with a low safety risk are usually less tightly controlled than medicines that have a higher safety risk. This system is called ‘scheduling’.

Why is the schedule important?

The schedule is designed to protect public health and safety. Some medicines have a higher risk of causing harm than others. Also, some medicines are more likely to be misused, such as medicines that can cause dependence or addiction.

Scheduling is a way of sorting out which medicines or poisons need to be more tightly controlled, and which don’t. Some poisons are so dangerous that they are not to be used at all.

What information is in the schedule?

Each category has different rules for how a medicine or poison should be labelled, sold, bought, stored and thrown away. These categories also tell you if you need a prescription to buy a certain medicine. A specific medicine will fall into the same category across all Australian states and territories.

How is the schedule categorised?

There are 10 categories (‘schedules’) arranged from least tightly controlled to most tightly controlled. Medicines are usually in Schedules 2, 3, 4 or 8.

Schedule 1

Not currently in use

Schedule 2

Pharmacy medicine – Medicines that are available on the shelf at pharmacies.

Schedule 3

Pharmacist only medicine – Medicines that are available from a pharmacist without a prescription. These medicines are usually behind the pharmacy counter.

Schedule 4

Prescription only medicine – Medicines which must be prescribed by an authorised healthcare professional (such as your doctor). They may be supplied in hospital or bought from a pharmacy with a prescription.

Schedule 5

Caution – Chemicals which are not likely to cause harm. They need suitable packaging with simple warnings and safety directions on the label.

Schedule 6

Poison – Chemicals with a moderate risk of causing harm. They need special packaging with a strong warning and safety directions on the label.

Schedule 7

Dangerous poison – Chemicals with a high risk of causing harm in low doses. They are only available to certain people who are able to handle them safely. There may be special rules for selling, using or storing these chemicals.

Schedule 8

Controlled drug – Medicines or chemicals which have special rules for producing, supplying, distributing, owning and using them. These medicines may only be prescribed by an authorised healthcare professional who may need a special prescribing permit.

Schedule 9

Prohibited substance – Chemicals which may be abused or misused. They are illegal to produce, own, sell or use except if needed for medical or scientific research.

Schedule 10

Chemicals that are so dangerous they are banned altogether.


Not all medicines are scheduled. Some medicines such as cough and cold remedies can be sold in supermarkets and pharmacies. These are categorised as 'not scheduled'. It is not considered necessary to control access to these medicines. However, this does not mean that these medicines are considered harmless.

The Poisons Standard lists all the medicines or poisons available in Australia, and their categories. The Australian Department of Health decides which category a medicine or poison should be in.

More information

You can find more information about scheduling from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The TGA is the part of the Department of Health responsible for regulating many health products.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2020

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