A new study warns that medications used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia may increase an individuals’ risk of a car accident. Because of the risk, researchers suggest physicians should consider advising patients not to drive while taking these drugs.
The new research stems from knowledge that psychotropic drugs affect the way the brain functions and can impair a driver’s ability to control their vehicle.
Prior studies on the link between psychotropic medications and driving accidents have focused on benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium).
Researchers say that newer Z-drugs (so called because several of the compounds start with the letter z; brand names Sonata, Ambien, Imovane and Lunesta), used to treat insomnia, have received less attention, as have antidepressants and antipsychotics.
Investigators designed the study, found in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, to evaluate the effects of this expanded list of drugs on driving risks.
To do this, the authors compared drug use in two groups of people identified using medical records from the Taiwanese national health insurance program.
The first group included 5,183 people involved in motor vehicle accidents. The second group included 31,093 people, matched for age, gender and the year of vehicle accidents, who had no record of being involved in motor vehicle accidents.
In general, those involved in accidents were more likely to have been taking psychotropic drugs, whether they had been taking them for one month, one week or one day.
Researchers discovered both Z-drugs and antidepressants had similar increased driving risk as previously discovered in benzodiazepines. But antipsychotics were not associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, even among those taking higher doses.
“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., M.P.H., of the National Health Research Institute in Taiwan.
“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.”
The research strengthens the findings of previous reports that have assessed the risk associated with individual psychotropic drugs. It also provides more evidence on the link between dose and driving performance, showing that higher doses are associated with a higher risk of an accident.
“Our data demonstrated significant dose effects for antidepressants, benzodiazepine and Z-drugs,” said Tsai. “This suggests that taking a higher dosage poses a greater danger to those intending to drive.”
The authors recommend that patients do not stop taking their medication, but if concerned should consult their doctor.