Can prescription warnings reduce "drugged" driving?


Some prescription medicines can impair a person’s ability to drive. The 4 most common classes of medicines that cause impaired driving include: antidepressants, stimulants, sedatives, and opioids (narcotics). These medicines can make the driver sleepy, impair thinking, limit motor function, and/or make the driver more aggressive.


In a recent study,1 researchers wanted to find out:

• If the person received a warning (from the doctor, pharmacist, or medicine label) that the medicine could impair their driving
• If the warning increased the perceived risk of driving impaired while taking the medicine.

Participants were selected from 60 locations representing 4 geographical regions across the US based on various criteria. All participants were told their participation was voluntary and anonymous. A total of 7,405 participants completed the survey.

Of those who completed the survey, 19.7% reported taking at least 1 medicine, within the past 2 days, that could impair driving. Within that group, the majority of those taking a sedative (85.8%) or an opioid (85.1%) stated they received a warning that the medicine could impair their driving. However, only 62.6% those taking an antidepressant and 57.7% of those taking a stimulant received a warning. The results also show a significantly higher perception of impaired driving by participants who stated they received a warning. But, a number of participants also indicated that they did not think the medicine could cause impairment if they took it as directed.

The study shows that it is important for doctors and pharmacists to discuss potential side effects of medicines including if the medicine can impair driving. Manufacturers can also improve the information listed on the medicine’s label.

Here’s what you can do: Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about side effects from the medicines that are prescribed for you. Always ask if you can drive while taking the medicine. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for printed material about the medicine. Keep track of how you feel and when the effects occur. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any side effects you have. Your doctor may be able to adjust the dose or the time you take the medicine.

Pollini RA, Waehrer G, Kelley-Baker T. Receipt of warnings regarding potentially impairing prescription medications and associated risk perceptions in a national sample of US drivers. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2017;78(6):805–13.

Created on November 14, 2017

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