Using medications safely

Prescription and non-prescription medications can help treat diseases and conditions, and make you feel better. But taking these medications correctly is important.

All medications carry some risk. Side effects (also known as adverse reactions) can occur even when the product is used correctly. For example, you could have a mild side effect like a minor rash, or a severe allergic reaction. Following directions, asking questions, and sharing your medical history are all ways to help reduce the risk of side effects.

Know the risks

All medications carry some risk. Make sure you learn about these risks before you take the medication.

Common risks include:

  • Combining medication with certain foods, beverages, vitamins, or other health products that can cause harmful interactions
  • the medication not working as it should
  • the medication causing more health problems

Reduce your risk

Follow directions

Always use medication as directed by your doctor or pharmacist. This includes when to take it, how often, and for how long. You should also know when and under what conditions you should stop using your medication, and what to do if you miss a dose. Always read the product label and follow the directions closely.

Talk to your healthcare professional

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional about all aspects of your medication. Discuss any questions or concerns you might have.

  • Discuss your medical history. This includes any health conditions you have, allergies and sensitivities, and what medications, including natural health products, you are taking. Keep a record of all your medications with this easy-to-use chart.
  • Mention if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to have a baby.
  • Discuss any difficulties you might have swallowing medication or remembering to take it on time.

Did you know?

It is best to use the same pharmacy for all your prescriptions. The pharmacist will get to know you and your medical history, which will help identify any harmful interactions with other medications that you are taking.

Learn about your medication

  • Ask your healthcare professional why you are being prescribed the medication, how it should work, and whether you will need regular check-ups or tests.
  • Ask about how to reduce the risk of side effects and possible harmful interactions with food, beverages (like grapefruit juice), vitamins, and herbal supplements.
  • Ask when you should expect to start feeling better, and if and when you should go back to your doctor.
  • Ask your pharmacist for documentation/pamphlets on the medications you are taking.

Store medications safely

  • Always keep products in their original containers, even when travelling.
  • Never combine different medications in the same bottle.
  • Keep products in a cool, dry area, away from the sun.
  • All medications must be kept out of the reach of children.

Did you know?

Products with different brand names may contain the same ingredient. For example, both Advil and Motrin contain ibuprofen.

Dispose of medications properly

At least once a year, go through your medicine cabinet and remove all prescription and non-prescription medications that are expired or that you no longer take. Medications must be disposed of correctly: return them to your pharmacy or to your local waste disposal depot.

Report a side effect

It is important to report a side effect to a medication by contacting your healthcare professional.

You can also report it directly to Health Canada.

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