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Driving Under the Influence—of Prescription Medication

Driving Under the Influence—of Prescription Medication

In 2014, when a 19-year-old Justin Bieber was pulled over for racing his Lamborghini around Miami, the police chief said the songster admitted to having marijuana, alcohol and prescription drugs in his system. At that time, no one was surprised that he was snagged for driving under the influence (“I’m a different person now,” he said recently). But did you ever think you could be that reckless? It turns out many folks have no idea their prescription medications make driving dangerous and put them at risk for a DUI arrest.

A 2017 study looked at data from the 2013 to 2014 National Roadside Survey, in which drivers across America were asked about drug use, including prescription drugs. Almost 20 percent said they’d recently taken a prescription medication and yet were unaware the medication could affect their driving. And yet another 2015 study found the prevalence of drivers with prescription opioids in their systems at the time of death from a car accident surged from 1 percent in 1995 to 7.2 percent in 2015.

Opioids are a big risk when you’re driving (around 35 percent of adult Americans were given a painkiller prescription by medical providers last year). So are other legitimately prescribed meds like antidepressants, sedative hypnotics (including diazepam/Valium and others), antihistamines (Benadryl), decongestants, sleeping pills and medical marijuana. They can compromise your reaction time. So, read the warnings on medications and ask your doc about driving risks associated with medications—and combinations of medications—so you’re not a danger to yourself and others.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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