Sedative-Hypnotic Use and Motor Vehicle Accidents

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As we enter the busy summer driving season, most drivers are aware of the risks of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol.  However, a new study published by the American Public Health Association highlights the association between sedative-hypnotic use and motor vehicle crash risk.

Sedative-hypnotics include prescription drugs such as temazepam (Restoril®) and zolpidem (Ambien®) and non-prescription products such as acetaminophen/diphenhydramine (Tylenol PM®)

A review of 409,171 adults in an integrated health care system licensed to drive in Washington State revealed that 5.8% received a new prescription for a sedative-hypnotic drug with 11,197 person-years of exposure.  Exposure reflects the actual use of the drug according to pharmacy dispensing data.  New users of sedative-hypnotics were associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents compared to non-users.  The hazard ratios ranged from 1.27 for temazepam to 2.20 for zolpidem).   This means that for new users of zolpidem, the risk of having a motor vehicle accident was more than doubled.  The risk estimates are equivalent to blood alcohol concentration levels between 0.06% and 0.11% (most states recognize a blood alcohol level above 0.08% as impaired).

Unfortunately the risk of impairment increases exponentially when these drugs are combined with alcohol or other drugs that can cause sedation, reduce response time, or loss of coordination.

If you take any medications including supplements and herbal products, consult your doctor or pharmacist for advice about your risk of impairment while operating a motor vehicle.