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"Pharmacy" or "Drug Store"? What's the Difference?

Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She writes articles that are interesting to her readers.

What's the technical definition of "pharmacy"?

What's the technical definition of "pharmacy"?

Pharmacy Versus Drug Store

Some people think the words "pharmacy" and "drug store" should be used interchangeably. That's not true because there are several differences between the two.

Usually, a pharmacy is inside a drug store. A pharmacy sells medicines and medical supplies. A drug store sells many other products. There are other differences listed below.

What's a Pharmacy?

A pharmacy is a place where medications are dispensed and sold. Usually, a pharmacy is a separate section in a drug store, department store, or in major supermarkets such as Kroger and Walmart. A pharmacy is also part of most hospitals and health clinics.

A pharmacy provides medical products over the counter but not other products that are in a drugstore. However, if you have one or two drug store items when you pay for your medicine, the cashier will accept it.

Workers in a pharmacy must be trained and licensed to dispense medicine and give flu, pneumonia, and other shots to customers. Those workers are different from other workers in a drug store that serves customers with other items.

A pharmacy may not typically carry items that you can purchase in a drugstore, such as paperback books, cosmetics, electronics, batteries, snacks, and drinks. Some drug stores develop photos.

Most of the time, a pharmacy is located in a special section of the main facility such as in the back of the store away from customers who have no need for anything in the pharmacy.

Pharmacies in the United States

There is no shortage of pharmacies in the United States because there are approximately 67,000 of them. Almost half of them are located in drug stores, grocery stores, hospitals, department stores, medical clinics, surgery clinics, universities, nursing homes, prisons, and other facilities. The other half is independent or privately owned.

Some states have an abundance of pharmacies. In some communities, there is a drug store with a pharmacy on almost every corner. California has 5,560 pharmacies. That tops the list with the most. Texas, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania make up the other top five states with the most pharmacies.

What's a Drug Store?

The words drug store can be written as two words or as one. Both are correct. A drug store is a retail facility for selling prescription medications and other products not related to medicine and medical supplies. A drug store may sell the same things as a convenience store. Drug stores may sell cosmetics, toiletry items, first-aid supplies, and patent medications, such as non-prescription cold medicines.

A drug store can sell health care products and over-the-counter medicine. Customers can buy both over-the-counter and prescription medications at a drug store. A drug store is a retail store where medicines and miscellaneous items are sold. Some drug stores also have photo-developing services.

Many drug stores sell a variety of things such as paperback books, electronics, and batteries. greeting cards, gift cards, magazines, food, drinks, and even small clothing items such as scarves and gloves. Some items of food and drinks are sold at drug stores as breakfast cereal, snacks, and milk. Cigarettes used to be sold at drug stores, but they are no longer sold there. Beer, wine, and cigarettes are not sold at all drug stores. However, they are still sold at some within the United States.

The big three

The big three

The "Big Three" Drug Stores in the US

CVS Health is the leading drug store chain in the United States based on the number of locations and sales. CVS, which stands for Consumer Value Store, has about $153.3 billion in revenue. When the store opened on May 8, 1963, it had only 17 stores. Five years later, CVS was in 40 locations. Today, there are 9,967 locations with 203,000 employees and $134.128 billion in sales.

CVS has the word "pharmacy" in its name, but technically it is a drug store because it not only fills prescriptions, but it also sells merchandise.

Behind CVS Health is Walgreens. It is much older than CVS, but its growth has not been as fast. Walgreens was launched in 1901. It started out with just one store. By 1913, it had grown to only four stores. Two years later, Walgreens had just five stores. By 1919, there were 20 stores in the chain. Even though the growth of Walgreens was extremely slow, today it has 9,277 locations with 230,000 employees and a revenue of $136.9 billion.

Rite Aid Corporation is the third drug store chain in the United States behind CVS and Walgreens. It is the youngest and has the fewest locations and employees. It was founded on September 12, 1962. Today, it has 2,464 locations with 53,100 employees and $21.64 billion in sales.

Other Pharmacy and Drug Store Facts

  1. Most drug stores have pharmacies, but not all pharmacies are in drugstores.
  2. All those who work as a pharmacist must be licensed. However, only sixteen states require certification for employees to work as a pharmacy technician. The other states do not require certification.
  3. More and more non-medical products are in drug stores today than in the past.
  4. A number of pharmacies inside drug stores have drive-through services to pick up prescriptions only and no other items.


Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on February 16, 2020:

Rochelle, thanks for that clarification. I'll edit my article to reflect that.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on February 15, 2020:

The CVS and RiteAids near us sell beer,wine,liquor of all kinds. I think RA tried to discontinue tobacco for awhile but have since brought it back.