A study conducted at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago showed that moderate, long-term use of pain medication use does not impair a persons ability to drive safely. The head of this study was Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, associate professor, Department of Anesthesiology.
Many of the stronger pain relievers that contain opiods and narcotics have warning labels that caution patients that taking these medications can affect driving and operating machinery. Drivers who are under the influence of pain medications are subjected to the same laws and penalties as someone who is charged with DUI. In this study though, Dr. Buvanendran found there to be no difference in driving skills and the reaction times of patients taking medication, such as morphine, compared to those drivers who were non-medicated.
“The study subjects drove for 12 minutes in a driving simulator that measured deviation from the center of the road, weaving, the number of accidents, and reaction time to surprise events. The amount of weaving was 3.83 feet for both sets of drivers, and the opioid group had 5.33 collisions compared to the non-opioid group with 5.04 (no statistical difference). Reaction time also was similar for both groups: 0.69 seconds for the controlled group and 0.67 for the opioid group.”
Dr. Buvanendran suggests that the study shows that patients who need long-term pain medications may become tolerant to the side effects of the medication that would normally impair functioning.