Moderate, long-term use of opioid pain medications, such as morphine, does not impair a person's driving ability, US researchers report.
Opioid pain relievers, a class of drugs used to treat moderate to severe pain, carry warning labels urging patients not to drive or operate heavy machinery while taking the medications. Drivers under the influence of pain drugs are typically subject to the same laws and penalties as people who drink and drive.
A team at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago compared two groups of people—51 long-term users of oral morphine and 49 who weren't taking any pain medication. All the participants spent about 12 minutes in a driving simulator that measured deviation from the center of the road, weaving, number of accidents, and reaction time to unexpected events.
The average amount of weaving for both groups was 3.83 feet. The morphine group had 5.33 collisions, compared with 5.04 collisions for the control group. Average reaction time for the morphine group was 0.67 seconds, compared with 0.69 seconds for the control group.
The findings suggest that patients who require long-term pain medication may "become tolerant" to side effects that could potentially impair function, said researcher Asokumar Buvanendran, MD, an associate professor in the anesthesiology department at Rush.
According to Dr. Buvanendran, this study's findings suggest that patients on long-term pain medication may be able to live "like normal functioning people, without the stigma and limitations now associated with long-term pain medication use."
However, drinking even a small amount of alcohol while taking an opioid pain reliever can impair driving ability.
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