Morgantown, WV—Pharmacists might be surprised by how many patients using prescription medications that could impair driving said they were unaware of the dangers.

The article in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs said that type of drug use was reported by about 20%of people in their study, but from 14% to 37% said they were not aware that the medications could affect their driving, despite the potential for receiving warnings from their doctor, their pharmacist, or the medication label. Those reporting having received warnings varied, including:
• 86% for sedatives
• 85% for narcotics 
• 58% for stimulants, and 
• 63% for antidepressants

For the study, West Virginia University–led researchers employed data from the 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey. More than 7,400 adults completed the prescription drug section of the survey, which asked drivers randomly selected at 60 sites across the U.S. questions about drug use, including prescription drugs. Study authors said their study had no way of determining whether respondents actually received the warning or if they just didn’t retain the information.

“We were very surprised that our study was the first we could find on this topic,” explained lead researcher Robin Pollini, PhD, MPH, of the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University. “It’s a pretty understudied area, and prescription drugs are a growing concern.”

Based on survey results, drivers were most likely to believe that sleep aids affected safe driving, followed by morphine/codeine, other amphetamines, and then muscle relaxants. Considered less likely to affect driving risk were attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications. Results were similar when survey takers were asked about the risk of causing an accident or of impaired driving resulting in criminal charges: sleep aids were considered most likely and ADHD were deemed to the least.

Study authors called for pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to intensify efforts to warn patients using these drugs. They also emphasized the need for improved medication labeling.

“The vast majority of drivers who are recent users of prescription drugs that have the potential for impairment have come into contact with a physician, a pharmacist, and a medication label,” Pollini pointed out. “There’s an opportunity here that’s not being leveraged: to provide people with accurate information about what risks are associated with those drugs. People can then make informed decisions about whether they’re able to drive.”