Oh, you would not believe some of the things that were OTC in the '50s. Aspirin for sure.
For instance–and I am getting this information from my baby book, which would not have lied–as an infant I had colic (i.e., unexplained annoying crying). My father was dispatched to the pharmacy to procure paregoric which was given to me, at the tender age of 4 weeks, and apparently, it put me to sleep!
My understanding is that this was a relatively common occurrence. No wonder we ‘50s’ babies got all psychedelic a couple of decades later.
On the other hand a lot of things that are OTC now, like Actifed and Sudafed, required a prescription then.
[tangent]“Heroin” was a brand name–not in the '50s, though, much earlier. Also earlier in the century there was a marijuana extract that was considered beneficial for menstrual cramps and other difficulties[/tangent]
Another treatment–and this may have been by prescription, I don’t remember–was something called “sugar of lead” for poison ivy (maybe itchiness in general but poison ivy was what was specifically being treated). It was a white ointment, allegedly quite poisonous when taken orally but apparently okay, and quite effective, when put on poison ivy welts.
Information collected from family members who were pharmacists, past and present. Pharmacists did a lot more compounding, for instance among our family artifacts is a pill mold, for pressing pills, but there were still brand-name prescription drugs that must have been mass produced, along with OTC things like Carters Little Liver Pills (no idea what those did), remedies for insomnia. vitamins, diet aids, Ex-Lax, Preparation H, Midol, etc. It is possible (but a source of argument) that pharmacists of the past were consulted more often about treatments that could be obtained without a prescription than they are today. They are still asked, but today’s questions are more on the order of, “Can I put this ointment on my kid’s eye for a sty?” and the answer is usually, “Check with his doctor.”