By Natasha Persaud
A new study links medications prescribed to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia with greater chances of motor vehicle accidents. Using insurance data, researchers found accidents were more likely among people taking an SSRI, TCA, benzodiazepine or Z drug (i.e., zolpidem, zolpiclone, zaleplon) within the previous month. Antipsychotic medication was not associated with increased driving risks in this particular study.
The research, published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, strengthens findings from previous reports assessing specific psychoactive drugs. While concerning, this study was observational, so results should be considered preliminary. Other factors may explain the increased driving risks.
Strengths of this study included a large sample size and examination of a range of psychoactive medications. To determine driving risks, researchers compared insurance data on two groups: 5,183 men and women involved in motor vehicle accidents and 31,093 people of the same ages and gender with no record of accidents. Five different classes of medication were also examined.
Future research might take a look a closer look at additional factors that play a role in motor vehicle accidents, such as weather, lifestyle stress, use of multiple medications at once and illegal drug use.
Pay Attention to Your Driving Performance
Out of an abundance of caution, the researchers suggest doctors advise patients not to drive while taking psychoactive drugs: "Our findings underscore that people taking these psychotropic drugs should pay increased attention to their driving performance in order to prevent motor vehicle accidents," said lead researcher, Hui-Ju Tsai, Ph.D., according to a news release. "Doctors and pharmacists should choose safer treatments, provide their patients with accurate information and consider advising them not to drive while taking certain psychotropic medications."
If you’re taking one of these medications, don’t decide on your own to stop taking it. Instead, talk to your doctor about any concerns and pay attention to your driving performance. If you start a new medication, read the label and information packet for potential side effects that can affect driving such as drowsiness, dizziness or blurred vision. Alert your doctor if you notice any. It’s important to know that untreated or poorly treated mental health conditions can also impair driving.
The AAA provides "Roadwise Rx," a free online tool that allows users to look up medication side effects and interactions, highlighting how these effects may impact safe driving abilities. You may want to check it out.
Chang, Chia-Ming, et al. “Psychotrophic Drugs and Risk of Motor Vehicle Accidents.” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, September 13, 2012.
News release, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, September 12, 2012.