Driving? What about your medications?

Alaska Med Ed

In the past few years, more than one older Alaskan has been in the news for a driving accident while medicated — with tragic or near-tragic consequences.

An 82-year-old man was driving his 6-year-old grandson to school when he went through a red light, swerved onto a curb and almost hit a patrol car, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. He faced charges of endangering the welfare of a child, reckless driving, and driving under the influence of several drugs, including Oxycodone and muscle relaxants.

A 68-year-old woman lost control of her vehicle and killed an 11-year-old as he walked to school.

We don’t know the stories behind the medications, or to what degree they may or may not have contributed to the accidents. We do know medications and alcohol have a stronger effect on us as we age, and that we need to be wary of these changes.

This is incredibly important if we plan to get behind the wheel of a car.

To keep yourself, your car, and your friends, family and neighbors safe, follow these tips:

• If you drink alcohol, don’t drink within six hours of a time you know you need to drive.

• Know the effects your meds have on you, including over-the-counter remedies like cough syrup and Benadryl. If you have to drive, schedule when you take your meds carefully, so you’re driving at times when you are not drowsy or dizzy.

• Get an annual medication review to help you anticipate and understand the effects medications have on you. But remember, you are the expert on you. Even if a drug doesn’t usually make other people drowsy, what matters is if it makes you drowsy.

• Line up other ways to get where you need to go just in case you run late and take meds that make you drowsy close to the time you need to be somewhere. This will help you not be tempted to get behind the wheel while drowsy.

• Make a pact with your friends and family members not to get behind the wheel if you’ve taken meds that make you sleepy, so everyone agrees it’s OK for you to say “Not right now,” if they’ve called for a ride.

If you’re concerned that someone you know may not be safe behind the wheel, Alaska’s Division of Motor Vehicle has a webpage for reporting medically impaired drivers: http://doa.alaska.gov/dmv/akol/medical_impair.htm. Don’t be shy — the discomfort of reporting your concerns about a friend is nothing compared to the pain of realizing after an accident that you could have helped and didn’t.

For more information, the DMV also has this website for senior drivers: http://doa.alaska.gov/dmv/akol/mature_driver.htm.

Now is the time to ask your medication questions

Next month is my last column in this yearlong series of columns. Email me at AKMedEd@alaska.gov if you have a medication question you’d like answered, or to request a pill dispenser, wallet-sized medication list or magnifying glass.

Lana Bell is a state pharmacist with the Alaska Pioneers’ Homes.

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