Drugged Driving: Why Mixing Prescriptions & Driving Don’t Mix

Drugged Driving: Why Mixing Prescriptions & Driving Don’t Mix

Drivers need to take care if they are using a prescribed drug that can impair their ability to operate their vehicles.

Prescription drug use is on the rise, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and it is having an impact on safety on the road.

One 2014 retrospective study by the University of Nebraska Medical Center looked at trends between fatal car crashes in the United States and drivers who tested positive for drug use and found that in 2010, 11.4% of all drivers involved in fatal collisions tested positive for drug use. Of that number, 46.5% were prescription drug users, a statistic the study authors found to have been increasing since 1998. Though prescription drugs are not the first thing most people think of when it comes to impaired driving ­— as opposed to alcohol and illegal narcotics — they can be just as dangerous when it comes to safely operating a vehicle.

Counting the Side Effects

Prescription Drug side effects may include:

  • Confusion
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Sleepiness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Hypotension
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

Any of these side effects alone could impair normal driving, making the road less safe for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. According to a 2015 study by the National Safety Council (NSC), risk for impairment from prescription drugs is the highest at initial doses, when increasing the dosage, taking them simultaneously with other drugs, and when mixing with substances such as alcohol.

While taking a single dose of a prescription drug on its own may have mild side effects, combining drugs often creates a synergistic effect. This means the effects of each combined drug becomes multiplied. For example, nausea that results from taking one drug can become much worse if taken with another.

Resources such as www.roadwiserx.com can help you determine how different drugs interact with one another, how severe combined effects might get, and how much of a hazard they represent if taken before driving. However, if you have any questions about the side effects of a single prescription or how they interact with each other, you should also consult your primary physician or your pharmacist.

There are situations where a patient might be fit to drive after taking a prescription medication. However, this also requires the help of a physician, who must determine:

  • If the patient has been taking a stable dosage.
  • If, after a series of tests, the patient is completely absent of any signs of impairment.

Combatting Prescription Drugged Driving

Different states across the country are working on ways to combat drugged driving. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a report recently that recommended states expand special law enforcement programs to train officers to identify people driving under the influence of drugs.

According to the GHSA, adequately fighting drugged driving requires improved data collecting. One of the challenges officers face is that there are hundreds of possible prescribed medications. More fundamentally, drugs metabolize and react to the human body in specific, individualized ways, and state laws regarding drug use and driving vary.

Knowing how prescription drugs may affect your work is vital, especially with regard to driving. Drivers, perhaps more than any other occupation, are at a high risk of performing their job under prescription medications. While employers and fleets should have policies regarding drugged driving, it is also incumbent on drivers to discuss with their health care provider about the possible side effects of a drug when it is first prescribed.

It’s up to everyone on the road to understand the effects that prescription drugs can have on drivers and to keep drivers, pedestrians, and passengers safer.

Drive safely!

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