It’s something you might do without even thinking twice. You wake up with the sniffles and take a cold remedy before leaving for work. Or maybe you pop a blood pressure pill as your doctor instructed.
And the next thing you know, you’re pulled over and cited for… driving under the influence, otherwise known as “DUI.” And that’s even though you haven’t touched a drop of alcohol.
Sound improbable? It actually happens a lot more than you might imagine. And that risk, as one researcher has just revealed, is one your doc and pharmacist isn’t likely to warn you about.
So, before you get behind the wheel again, here’s what you need to know to avoid risking losing your license — or even your life.
Close to the Florida line, right off Interstate 75, you’ll find Valdosta, Georgia. While it’s a pretty average American city, one local crime statistic is zooming off the charts — arrests for “driving under the influence.”
But that’s not because it’s a town full of partying young people who are drinking and driving.
In fact, alcohol isn’t even required to get you in trouble with a DUI charge — in Valdosta or anywhere else!
According to a Valdosta police sergeant, simply following your doctor’s orders could land you in jail — because, as he explains, the top reason for DUI charges in his city is prescription drugs.
Just “one slip” while taking that Rx your doctor hands you, he warns, and you could suddenly be facing fines from $5,000 to $10,000. Losing your license is practically “guaranteed” — and without being able to drive yourself around, that means you’ll also lose your independence.
But what’s going on in Georgia is just a peek into a crisis that’s unfolding all over the U.S.
Recently, researchers at West Virginia University found that a high percentage of drivers legally taking certain medications had no that idea those meds could impair their ability to drive.
Dr. Robin Pollini, who led the study, said that most of the drivers surveyed for her research knew that meds such as sleeping pills and other sedatives shouldn’t be used right before you get behind the wheel. But they never realized that taking drugs such as antidepressants, muscle relaxers, blood pressure meds, or even stimulants could have them driving as dangerously as someone who is legally intoxicated.
You don’t have to be involved in an accident, either. If a police officer stops you for any reason, and believes that you’re not fit to drive, giving him excuses as to why you need any particular drug or that you doctor ordered you to take it just won’t fly.
Another reason drug DUIs have reached epidemic proportions is, unsurprisingly, the current opioid crisis.
Earlier this year, a study done by Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health looked at 20 years’ worth of accident data on fatal car crashes. Researchers found a sevenfold rise in deadly accidents for drivers who were under the influence of Rx painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicoprofen (a combination of hydrocodone and ibuprofen).
While how your body reacts to practically any drug can turn you into a dangerous driver, some meds are more likely than others to impair your reflexes, alertness and cause drowsiness, including ones used to treat:
- anxiety — such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan,
- high blood pressure — these meds can leave you feeling tired and sluggish, which can slow down your reaction time while driving,
- cold symptoms — even OTC cold remedies can make you drowsy or dizzy and affect your coordination,
- depression — including meds such as Paxil, Prozac or Zoloft, especially during the first 10 hours after taking a dose, and,
- insomnia — many drugs to help you sleep are in a special dangerous class all their own, since they are known to cause a condition called “psychomotor impairment” that can linger well into the next day.
Also at the top of the DUI list are stimulants, which include some of Big Pharma’s favorites — drugs prescribed for ADHD, such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta. And don’t think those are just handed out to children! Plenty of adults are now being prescribed these meds for what’s called “adult ADHD.”
It’s impossible for anyone to guess what kind of reaction you’ll have when taking several drugs at the same time. But you can safely say that the more meds you’re taking, the greater your DUI risk is going to be.
Of course, the safest thing you can do is not to take any drugs, especially if you’re going to be driving.
But if you must, carefully check labels for warnings about “operating heavy machinery.” And, since some natural supplements like melatonin, valerian, and chamomile can also make you drowsy, they’re best taken in the evening when you know you don’t have to drive anywhere.
If you do have to go out while on anything that could compromise your response time in the driver’s seat, let someone else take the wheel!
“Does your medication make you a worse driver?” Mary Elizabeth Dallas, November 1, 2017, HealthDay, consumer.healthday.com