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New drug-driving law will affect some prescription medicines

People who take prescription medicines that can affect their ability to drive safely may want to be aware of a change in the law to be introduced this summer (2014).
By Grant Stewart

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?

tired teen girl behind wheel

It is illegal to drive or to attempt to drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs. This is because drinking alcohol, or taking illegal drugs or some prescription medicines, can affect someone’s ability to drive safely. This summer, the government plans to update and clarify the law about ‘drug-driving’. It will state exactly which drugs are affected, and it will be an offence to drive if you have taken more than a specified level of that drug.

Although the list of drugs affected by the law will still mainly contain so-called ‘recreational’ drugs - things like cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy - there are some names on it that people will recognise as medicines. The prescription medicines on the list include methadone, morphine, and benzodiazepines including diazepam and temazepam.

What does the new law say?

Before anyone starts to worry, no one needs to stop taking their prescription because of this new law. The law is mainly aimed at people who drive after using drugs, whether prescription or otherwise, to get ‘high’.

People taking medicines prescribed by their doctor shouldn’t have any difficulty. The new law will state that people who take prescription drugs will have a legal defence (that means it’s not likely they will be prosecuted) as long as:

  • they haven’t been taking more than the recommended dose of their medicine, and
  • they haven’t gone against the advice about their medicine given in the manufacturer’s information leaflet.

Doctors are already well aware of which prescription drugs can affect people’s ability to drive - usually by making them drowsy. And doctors should make sure people who use these prescription medicines know about how these drugs might affect them.

To make doubly sure they are aware of what the new laws mean, doctors are being given updated instructions by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the body that makes sure medicines are used properly. These instructions will remind doctors to discuss carefully with people how some drugs can affect their ability to drive. The leaflets that come with the affected drugs will also be updated to include this information.

What does this mean for me?

If you take a prescription medicine that might affect your ability to drive, you probably know about it already. But it wouldn’t do any harm for anyone taking long-term medicines to quickly check the packaging of their prescription and the information leaflets that come with them, just to make sure.

The important thing to remember is that if you are taking your prescriptions in the right way, as your doctor has advised, then you aren’t doing anything wrong. If you have any questions about your prescriptions, or if your medicines make you feel drowsy or cause symptoms that you don’t think they should, talk to your doctor straight away.

Published on January 27, 2014

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