Whether you take regular medications or are only in need of an over-the-counter drug (such as Advil or Tylenol) from time to time, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician practicing in Vancouver, British Columbia, wants patients to know these basic but crucial medication safety tips.

For each medication you take, the more you know the better. While most prescribed medications come with a patient information sheet, you still might be left with some questions. For example, questions on how to properly take the drug, how often it should be taken, and if there are any abnormal side effects that you should watch out for. While you can certainly find the answers to many of those questions by doing a simple Google search, Dr. Ali Ghahary says it is best for patients to go to their prescribing physician or pharmacy with any questions they may have.

When taking medications, it is important for patients to take them exactly as prescribed unless otherwise specified by their physician. For example, if you have been prescribed a course of antibiotics for 7 days, you should finish the entire course – even if you’re feeling better. By not finishing the full course of antibiotics or by not taking the correct dose, you put yourself at risk of recurring infections as well as a whole other gamut of problems, including antibiotic resistance.

Prior to taking any medication you’ve been prescribed, it’s also important to let your pharmacy know about any other medications you’re on. Certain prescription drugs can interact with each other, and in some cases those interactions can be deadly. Your pharmacy will be able to advise you of any potential drug interactions. If there are any interactions between medications you have been prescribed or ones you are already taking, a pharmacist will be able to suggest a safe, alternative medication for your doctor to prescribe.

While it should go without saying, you should never take a medication that has been prescribed or given to you by someone other than your physician. As we so often see, you may wind up being given a medication that is entirely different from what you expect it to be. For example, it could be laced with Fentanyl – an ingredient that, even if a tiny amount is ingested, can be deadly. You could also a medication that is expired, or one you’re severely allergic to..

It’s also important to keep medications out of reach of children and pets. As infants and animals can crawl around and climb things fairly easily, you’ll want to store your medications in a hard-to-reach spot or a locked cabinet. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 60,000 children are hospitalized as a result of getting into medications that were not properly stored or hidden from their reach. If you suspect your child has gotten into a medication, Dr. Ali Ghahary urges patients to go to the nearest emergency room. If you have any questions, you can also contact the British Columbia Drug and Poison Information Centre (BC DPIC) at 604-682-5050 or toll-free at 1-800-567-8911. They also have an informative list of prevention tips available on their website which can be found by clicking here – including how to properly store medications as well as what to do in the event of a medication overdose or poisoning.

Many pharmacies also allow patients to return any unused or leftover medications to them through the BC Medications Return Program, which has been in place since 1996. This program allows for the safe disposal of medications and sharps (i.e. needles/syringes).