Dangers of driving under the influence of prescription drugs


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 News) – We have plenty of knowledge and awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving.  But, there is still much to learn about how illegal drugs, prescription medications, and over the counter medicines affect you on the road.  One thing is for sure.  Drug related deaths are on the rise.

“There were so many cars and people everywhere, his car was a mangled mess.  I remember shouting out, ‘Please, God!’ I arrived to the hospital first and received the shocking news, that our dad was dead,” said Brooke Simpson.

In December, 2013, Brooke’s family got a call no one ever wants to receive.  Their loved one was dead.  Randy Rummage, a loving husband, father and grandfather was involved in a terrible car accident.  His  vehicle badly crushed.  The driver responsible was under the influence of prescription medication.

It’s an epidemic that is on the rise.  In 2014, 19%, or 48 of all deadly accidents were caused by drug use.  That is double what is was just 10 years prior.  In 2004, that number was just 8%, or 25 of the total deaths.

To combat this, the state has established a Drug Recognition Expert program.  Since the early 90’s these experts have worked with various law enforcement agencies to detect and apprehend impaired drivers.  Currently, there are about 155 of these D.R.E.’s.  They look for the cognitive and physical characteristics of impaired drivers.

“A lot of it, mainly deals with the body, handles the drugs differently than alcohol.  Stimulants will speed up the body, cause you to do things really fast, where things like alcohol cause you to slow down and depress the body,” says Trooper Jason Marshall, UHP Drug Recognition Expert.

According to officials narcotics and depressants are the top two drugs they see on the road.  Followed by stimulants and then marijuana.

Officials say one of the biggest reasons for the increase are the painful symptoms of withdrawal people will go through.  Health officials add it’s also because people need to be more aware of the medications they take and educate themselves on the effects it will have on their bodies.

“I think many people think because a doctor prescribed them a medication that it is safe and that’s not the case.  People just need to be aware that there are side effects.  They involve the brain, they involve coordination, they involve how they talk,” says Amie Quinones, a pharmacist at Intermountain Medical Center.

Health officials say medications should never be shared, and one should dispose of any unused medication at drop boxes at pharmacies and police stations to prevent them from getting in the wrong hands.

Experts say people are often more impaired than they realize, either because they’ve been on the medication for too long or because they feel fine.  To be safe stay away from driving, follow the instructions labeled on the bottle, and if you’re unsure call your doctor or pharmacist.

The following symptoms are telling signs of impairment.  Drowsiness, dizziness, or lightheadedness, increased pulse rate or sweating, disorientation, shortness of breath, delayed reaction of inability to focus, numbness, or a feeling of being disconnected.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has planned a series of studies to better understand the risks of drug impaired driving.  Currently, drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated, so often times a driver’s impairment is difficult to determine.  Officers can only go off of what they have been trained to see.

The challenges with determining how drugs affect the body is a complex one.  Their absorption, action and elimination from the body are tough to predict and differences exist between individuals and how these processes take place in their bodies.


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