Are Painkillers Causing Car-Accidents?

by John McKiggan

Opioid painkillers are prescription drugs (in Canada) that are used to relieve pain. The drugs increase the release of dopamine to the brain, causing intense happiness and pleasure. Opioids also help alleviate pain by interfering with the transmission of pain signals to the brain.

Common Medications

Popular pharmaceuticals in the opioid family include: codeine (Tylenol 2, 3, 4), morphine, hydromorphone, oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet). Codeine is sold over the cou8nter, while the stronger opioids, morphine, hydromorphone and oxycodone are only available by prescription and are usually prescribed for sever or chronic pain or cancer.

Side Effects Not Well-Known

While pretty much everyone knows what Tylenol is, most people don’t realize some of the side-effects these medications can have.

Side effects of these drugs include drowsiness, relaxation, vision problems and concentration issues.

Addictions and Overdoses

Opioids are frequently in the news due to their addictive tendencies and overdose deaths. For example: 21 people die every year from overdoses of prescription opioids in southeastern British Columbia.

Last year the government of Nova Scotia moved to limit access to some of the more addictive forms of opioid medications.

Car Accident Study

Addiction and overdose issues a side, there is more bad news for opioid patients. A recent Ontario study warns that opioid patients face higher risks of car accidents.

Patients prescribed with low doses of opioids, such as 20 milligrams of morphine, showed a 21 percent increased odds of car accidents. Even worse, patients who were prescribed higher doses of opioids showed 42 percent odds. In the highest dose category, for those patients suffering chronic pain, the risk of a car accident was increased by approximately 65 percent.

The author, Tara Gomes, is reported saying: “What was surprising to us was this increased risk started at what many people consider to be fairly low doses of opioids.”

Gomes also suggested doctors warn patients about their reduced driving ability as a side effect of the treatment.

“Impaired” Driving

The offense of “impaired driving” under the Criminal Code of Canada is not limited to alcohol or illegal drugs. Drivers can certainly be criminally impaired while under the influence of legally-obtained prescription medication.

I recently posted about the huge increase in Nova Scotia traffic deaths in 2012. A lot of those deaths were a result of impaired (mostly drunk) driving. As I discussed in that post:

“Alcohol is only one type of drug that can impair your ability to operate a motor vehicle. You can be criminally charged if you operate a motor vehicle while impaired by any other drug, even if you were in legal possession of the drug.”

Be Aware

Everyone knows how alcohol can impair your ability to drive. Most sensible people wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car if they have had too much to drink.

But this study reminds us that drivers need to be aware of the possible effects of the medications they are taking and how those medications can affect your ability to drive.

It also raises the question of whether doctors who prescribe opioid medications should warn patients about the effect on their ability to drive.

If they do not, then one has to consider the potential liability of the doctors if someone they prescribe medication to injuries themselves or someone else because their ability to drive was impaired by the medication.

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