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Driving under the influence of … medicine?

Justin Stoltzfus

You know it’s a bad idea to have a few drinks before hitting the road. But did you know that taking a few allergy pills also could impair your judgment?

In many cases, the over-the-counter and prescription medicines you need to stay healthy will allow you to drive safely, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But it’s important to be absolutely sure about any drugs you’re taking — and their side effects — before getting behind the wheel.

According to the FDA, the following types of medications might pose dangers for drivers:

• Anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants.

• High-powered pain medications with codeine and similar elements.

• Some cold and allergy medicines.

• Sedatives and sleeping pills.

• Some types of analgesics or pain-relieving drugs.

• Drugs that contain stimulants like caffeine and ephedrine. The “low” that follows the “high” can cause drivers to lose focus.

It’s not just prescription drugs that lead to increased accident risks. Even some over-the-counter drugs have their own startling risks. For instance, the maximum dose of aspirin can have the same effect as a 0.05 percent blood-alcohol level, according to The same is true for over-the-counter drugs like naproxen sodium (Aleve). This makes these drugs particularly dangerous if you’re drinking alcohol. A beer might not usually take you above the legal driving limit — but if you drink it after taking aspirin, you might end up with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.08.

Driving safely while taking your medications depends on a variety of factors, according to the FDA. A drug that alone might have little effect could leave you extremely drowsy if taken with another. The dosage and the timing can make a difference.

Check the label. If you see any of the following listed, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before driving:

• Warnings about drowsiness, nausea, decreased alertness, blurred vision, dizziness, fainting, slowed movement or excitability.

• A warning not to operate heavy machinery.

• A warning that the drug should not be taken with alcohol.

Keep in mind that, just like drunken driving, driving under the influence of drugs (even legal ones) can get you in trouble. Many states have drugged-driving laws that make it illegal to drive with judgment-impairing drugs in your system. If you get into an accident or receive a traffic citation, that ding on your driving record could cause your auto insurance premium to increase.

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