Driving after taking drugs and medicines

Katie Perkins folded armsBy Katie Perkins, RPS Support Pharmacist

A new law on driving after taking drugs and medicines comes into force today in England and Wales. This law will make it easier for the Police to tackle those who drive after taking illegal drugs or abusing medicinal drugs.

Basics of the law change
The new law makes it an offence to drive with certain drugs and medicines in your body. The drugs and medicines affected by the new law include commonly abused drugs such as heroin, cannabis and ecstasy, as well as commonly prescribed medicines that also have potential for abuse.  These include clonazepam, diazepam, lorazepam, oxazepam, temazepam, flunitrazepam, methadone and morphine. Amfetamine is expected to be included later this year.

But my drugs are legitimately prescribed!
In order to protect those patients who test positive for certain drugs or medicines that they have prescribed or purchased legitimately, the new offence has a statutory “medical defence” as follows:

  • If you are over the stated limit, but taking your medicine as directed and your driving is not impaired, then you are not breaking the law.  It will remain an offence to drive while your ability is impaired by any drug.  If in doubt, you should not drive.
  • If you take any of the medicines that are affected by the new law, you should keep some suitable evidence with you when driving to show that you are taking your medicine as you should.  Examples of evidence could include a repeat prescription slip for a prescribed medicine, or the patient information leaflet for a medicine you have bought.

Remember that alcohol taken in combination with medicines, even in small amounts, can greatly increase the risk of impairment.

It is important that you do not stop taking your medicines in order to drive.  An untreated medical condition can itself affect your driving, so you could find yourself breaking the law anyway.

Ask your pharmacist for advice
Ask a pharmacist if driving after taking your drugs and medicines will mean you are affected by the new law.

If you start a new medicine, even if it is one that does not directly affect your driving, you should check with a pharmacist if it will affect any of the other medicines you are already taking.  This is because medicines can interact and have side-effects that could in turn affect your driving.

It is every driver’s responsibility to ensure that they are safe to drive. If you are taking a medicine, you must be sure that your ability to drive is not affected. The best way to find out if you are safe to drive is to get advice from your pharmacist.