Psychiatric Drugs and Fatal Car Crashes

Psychiatric drugs impair brain function. There have been questions raised as to how safe it is for a person under the influence of some of these psychiatric drugs to drive. Usually, use of these drugs is seen as a trade off, symptom reduction for drug side-effects. Now it seems some of these drugs are endangering the lives of people who do not take them as well. The Newark contains a story by one C. Jeff Lee who works in the County Coroners Office of Licking County Ohio, We should decrease the number of drivers under the influence of medications.

What we have become more aware of at the coroner’s office the past few years is that there are increasing numbers of drivers dying in crashes who have strong prescription and/or over-the-counter medications in their system at the time of the crash that are known to cause serious effects by altering consciousness. These medications include pain medications, sleep aids, cold and allergy medications, psychiatric medications, antidepressants and anti-seizure medications, and these effects might occur even at normal prescribing levels.

Drugs, you will note, used in the treatment for all or most serious mental illness are covered in the above paragraph.

In Licking County, we have seen a great number of crash deaths involving these medications. From Jan. 1, 2007, through Dec. 31, 2009, a total of 46 drivers died in vehicular crashes. While it might not be alarming at first to know that during this time frame only 32 percent of drivers had alcohol in their system, only 28 percent of drivers had at least one illegal drug in their system and only 30 percent of drivers had at least one altering prescription or over-the-counter medication in their system, but to discover that a total of 76 percent of drivers had at least one of these substances in their system at the time of the crash is ominous. In fact, 17 percent of drivers had one of these medications, 11 percent had two of these medications and one driver had four different medications in their system at the time of the crash. Not until you combine all these data can you completely understand this problem as 43 percent of drivers had one substance, 20 percent had two different substances, 9 percent had three different substances and 4 percent had four different substances in their system at the time of the crash. That leaves only 24 percent of the drivers that were “clean.”

76 % of the drivers in these crash deaths were on drugs of one sort or another while 30% of them were on prescribed drugs. Polypharmacy, or the practice of prescribing multiple drugs, was involved in a few of these crashes. Polypharmacy is a practice that is certainly not going to improve anybodys road performance.

We have here just one more reason why other treatment options should be made available to people who want those options in mental health treatment over and above psychiatric drug maintenance alone. Not only is the person who takes to the road after ingesting some of these pills endangering his or her own life, but such a person is also putting other people’s lives in jeopardy as well.