Is it Safe to Drive While Taking Pain Medication?
There are so many Americans taking medication for pain and other ailments that we may not even think to ask whether we are safe to drive while on the prescription. In truth, it is safe to drive while taking most medication but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that it’s best to be absolutely sure before you get behind the wheel.
Some prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can cause reactions that may make it unsafe to drive.
Reactions to medications can include:
- Slowed movement or reaction times
- Blurred vision
- Excitability or racing heart
- Inability to focus or pay attention
Risk of DUI
In some states, driving while under the influence of drugs/medication, whether prescribed or not, can put you at risk for a DUI. If you cause an accident while taking medication, you may find yourself under scrutiny for any medication you were taking at the time of the collision.
Medications that could Cause Unsafe Driving
Keep yourself and others safe. Be cautious if taking any of the following prescription or OTC medications as they could cause a decrease in your driving abilities:
- drugs for anxiety
- pain relievers
- products containing codeine
- some cold remedies and allergy products
- sleeping pills
- diet pills, “stay awake” drugs, and other medications with stimulants such as caffeine, ephedrine, or pseudoephedrine.
Never combine alcohol and medication before driving and be careful of taking more than one medication at a time unless you have been advised by a pharmacist or doctor that they do not combine to cause drowsiness. Be aware that pills containing stimulants may cause excitability or drowsiness.
If you need to drive while taking medication, get all the information you can to ensure the safety of yourself and others on the road. Continue to take your medication in the dosage and times you were prescribed but talk to your doctor or pharmacist about potential side effects so you are prepared. You can request a print-out of the potential risks and side effects for any medication. It is very important to provide a complete record of all the medications you are taking including OTC and herbal products so your doctor or pharmacist can advise about any dangerous overlaps or potential side effects.
With adequate information your doctor may be able to:
- adjust the dose of your medication
- adjust the timing of doses or when you use the medicine to work around key driving times
- add an exercise or nutrition program to decrease the need for medicine
- change the medicine to one that causes less drowsiness or other undesirable side effects that could affect your ability to drive
If you have spoken to your doctor and taken all reasonable precautions but you still feel unsafe to drive, it might be best to look into transportation alternatives. Consider asking for a ride from a friend or family member, taking public transportation, walking, taxi cabs, shuttles buses, or vans. Many senior centers and religious or other local service groups offer transportation services for older adults in the community.
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