A Word with the DOCTOR
by Dr John Winsor
The Sunday Times of Malta

EVERY YEAR I get many letters from readers who have suffered unpleasant problems with prescribed drugs. Sometimes the problems are unavoidable. But often, the side effects could have been avoided - if the patient had known a little more about how to use drugs safely.

Here, therefore are some tips on how to get the best out of prescribed drugs. These tips are taken from The Patient's Companion, a Corgi paperback.

1. Always follow any specific instructions that you are given about the drugs.

2. Learn the names and purposes of the drugs you take. If you are not sure when to take drugs you have been given, check with your doctor or the pharmacist. If you think you will forget instructions, make sure they are written down.

3. Do not remove drugs from their proper container except when taking them or if you are transferring them to a special pill box designed to carry one day's supplies.

4. Store drugs in a locked cupboard where the temperature is fairly stable.

5. It is wise to always assume that prescribed drugs can cause drowsiness. If, after taking a drug for three days, there is no sign of any drowsiness, then the problem is unlikely to appear.

6. Most drugs don't mix well with alcohol. If you intend to drink and take drugs, then ask your doctor if it will be safe. Remember, too, not to take non-prescribed medicines while taking prescribed medicine. Certain foods mix badly with drugs - check with your doctor if you are in doubt.

7. Never take drugs that have been prescribed for someone else. Discard all unused supplies of drugs. My advice is to return them to the doctor.

8. Do not stop taking drugs suddenly if you have been advised to take a whole course. Ring your doctor for advice if you feel that you will need to stop for any reason. Some drugs have to be stopped gradually rather than abruptly.

9. Try to see the same doctor as often as possible. If several doctors are prescribing medication for you, there is an increased risk of an interaction between drugs that do not mix well.

10. Always be on the lookout for side effects, and remember that if you develop a second illness, the chances are high that it was caused by the treatment for the first!