People who wouldn't dream of driving after drinking or doing illicit drugs may think nothing of getting behind the wheel after taking medication prescribed by their doctor. This disconnect puts everyone on the road at risk.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while drunk driving has decreased more than 75 percent since the 1970s, driving under the influence of prescription drugs is more common in recent years.
Legality notwithstanding, many prescription medications can be just as impairing as alcohol or recreational drugs. If you were hurt in an accident caused by a drug-impaired motorist, you may be entitled to compensation.
Sedatives, Narcotics, Stimulants and More
In 2017, researchers from the West Virginia University School of Public Health's Injury Control Research Center in Morgantown analyzed data from the 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use to learn more about Americans' prescription drug use and driving habits.
The study, reported in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, included data collected from drivers randomly surveyed at 60 sites across the U.S. It found that one in five motorists had taken a potentially-impairing prescription medication within the past 48 hours. The respondents admitted to having taken a wide variety of prescription drugs capable of hampering thinking and judgment, including:
- Sedatives like Ambien® (zolpidem), Valium® (diazepam), Lunesta® (eszopiclone), and Xanax® (alprazolam)
- Antidepressants such as Zoloft® (sertraline), Prozac® (fluoxetine), and Wellbutrin® (bupropion)
- Narcotics like codeine, methadone and Vicodin® (acetaminophen and hydrocodone)
- Stimulants such as Aderall® (amphetamine) and Ritalin® (methylphenidate)
Prescription Warning Woes
One of the most concerning things West Virginia University researchers found in their analysis is the majority of drivers surveyed admitted having been warned by their doctor or pharmacist about the impairing effects of their prescription medication. Yet they chose to get behind the wheel despite the risk to themselves and others.
A whopping 85 percent of drivers taking sedatives or narcotics had been warned about impairing side effects by their health care provider, compared to 63 percent of drivers using antidepressants and 58 percent of drivers on stimulants.
Health and safety experts say the study highlights the need for both doctors and pharmacists to do a better job of explaining to patients the effects prescription drugs have on driving performance.
Potential Side Effects of Common Prescription Drugs
Prescription medications are used to treat a variety of injuries, illnesses, and chronic conditions. However, while they can offer patients much-needed relief, these medications often have concerning side effects that range in severity from uncomfortable to debilitating and even life threatening. Potentially impairing side effects of common prescription drugs can include:
- Blurred vision
- Slowed reactions
- Nausea or vomiting
- Trouble concentrating
- Confusion or disorientation
- Muscle cramps or weakness
- Chest pain
In addition to hazards posed by individual prescription treatment, drivers taking more than one medication may be at risk of dangerous drug interactions. Fortunately, patients can minimize this by being open and honest with their doctors, nurses, or other health care providers about the medications they're taking.
Following Your Prescription Doesn't Mean Giving Up Driving Freedom
Patients taking an impairing prescription drug often worry it means giving up their driving privileges and in turn, their freedom. However, handing over the keys may not be necessary. The doctor may be able to adjust the medication dosage or timing, or prescribe an alternative drug that's less affecting.
Consult an Experienced Car Accident Attorney
Were you injured in a car accident caused by a motorist impaired by prescription medication? You may be able eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit to seek compensation for your injuries and other damages. Contact McGartland Law Firm today to schedule an appointment for a free initial case consultation.