Bad Medicine?

Many Drivers Hit the Road on Potentially Impairing Medications
Andrew Gross, AAA

When it comes to the advice given by medical and pharmacy professionals about the dangers of mixing over-the-counter (OTC) and prescribed medications with driving, AAA recommends this guidance must be vastly improved and more consistently emphasized to maximize safety.

“Our research finds that many drivers are taking one or more potentially impairing medications before getting behind the wheel,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “It is important for medical professionals to offer clear consultation to their patients of these possible risks.”

This study focused on the prevalence of recent use by drivers of commonly used prescriptions and OTC medications, such as antihistamines, cough medicines, antidepressants, prescription pain medicines, muscle relaxants, sleep aids and amphetamines. These are potentially driver impairing (PDI) medications, but not all drivers who reported taking them were impaired. As the term implies, PDI medications can potentially impair driving, but effects in individuals may vary.

Nearly half of the drivers surveyed said they used one or more PDI medications in the past 30 days, according to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The proportion of those choosing to drive is higher among those taking multiple medications. More concerning, many who took these medications to combat depression, pain or sleep issues were not warned by their health care provider regarding the possible dangerous impact on driving.

Many PDI medications have potential effects that can be dangerous when mixed with driving, including dizziness, sleepiness, fainting, blurred vision, slowed movement and attention problems.

Research results found that up to half of drivers who were prescribed and took each type of PDI medication did not report receiving a warning from their medical provider or pharmacist regarding its possible impacts on driving. But those who did receive a warning were 18% less likely to get behind the wheel after use, highlighting the potential benefit of health care providers’ counseling to reduce medication-impaired driving.

For drivers, AAA recommends these safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t underestimate the risks of driving after using medications. According to the latest AAA Foundation Traffic Safety Culture Index, most drivers (94.5%) consider driving after drinking alcohol very or extremely dangerous. But only 87% feel the same about driving after using potentially impairing medications.

  • Be aware of your options. With advice from your doctor or pharmacist, you can successfully treat your medical condition and maintain your ability to drive safely.

  • Advocate for yourself. Become a better advocate for yourself during visits to the doctor, when filling a prescription at the pharmacy, or purchasing OTC medications.

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