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Strong painkillers and driving

You may have noticed that the label on your painkiller medication says ‘May cause drowsiness. If affected, do not drive or operate machinery. Avoid alcoholic drinks.’ If you are someone who drives, you may be wondering if it is safe for you to drive. The information on this page will help you to decide.


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Please note: You can also download a copy of this information leaflet at the bottom of this page or view our full list of information leaflets.

What are strong painkillers?

Strong painkillers commonly prescribed by doctors include Morphine Sulphate (Oramorph, MST, Zomorph, Morphgesic), Oxycodone (Oxynorm, Oxycontin), Fentanyl (Durogesic) and Buprenorphine (Transtec, Butrans). This is not an exhaustive list. If your painkiller is not listed here, you can always discuss your medication with your GP or Specialist Palliative Care Team

How will strong painkillers affect me?

Painkillers can affect each person in a different way. Strong painkillers make some people drowsy (sleepy) which can cause you to react slower than usual. These effects can be made worse if you take other medicines that cause drowsiness or if you drink alcohol. Some people may also experience these effects with milder painkillers.

What is the advice on driving whilst taking strong painkillers?

You should not drive for at least 5 days when you first start taking strong painkillers or if you are changing the dose. Sometimes longer is needed.

There will be other times when you must not drive, these include:

• If you feel drowsy

• If you have drunk any alcohol

• If you have taken extra doses of strong painkiller for pain – do not drive the same day as taking an extra short acting painkiller, for example oramorph, oxynorm or sevredol

• If you start taking other drugs prescribed by your doctor or bought from a chemist that may cause drowsiness, for example some hayfever medicine

• After taking strong drugs which have not been prescribed by your doctor, for example cannabis.

• Anything that makes you less able to make a sudden emergency stop

When can I start driving?

If you are not drowsy after you have been taking your strong painkillers for five days you can start driving again. Your first trip should be:

1. Short

2. On roads you are used to

3. At a time when the traffic is not too busy

4. During daylight, when there is good visibility

You may also find it helps to have an experienced driver with you to begin with in case you cannot finish your journey.

Do I need to inform the Drivers Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) if I am taking strong painkillers?

No, you do not have to inform the DVLA that you are starting a strong painkiller. However, there may be other information about your illness that the DVLA needs to know. Your doctors or the DVLA can advise you about this.

Contact details for the DVLA are:

• DVLA Swansea SA99 1TU

• Tel no 0300 790 6806

You will need to have your driving licence number when you contact them.

Website: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/driver-and-vehicle-licensing-agency

Do I need to inform my car insurance company if I am taking strong painkillers?

You should inform your motor insurance company about your current state of health and what medication you are taking. Each insurance company is different, but your insurance may not be valid if you do not do this.

What are the legal implications of driving whilst taking strong painkillers?

The Crime and Courts Act 2013 includes an offence of driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a vehicle, with a specified `controlled` drug (which includes strong painkillers) in the body above a specified level. The principle target for this offence is dangerous drivers who are impaired after recreational use of drugs ie used illegally or abused.

You are taking strong painkillers for medical reasons, but should still be aware that the medicine can affect the ability to drive.

Legally therefore, do not drive while taking this medicine until you know how it affects you. It is essential that you do not drive unless you feel 100 percent safe to do so. It is not again the law to drive whilst being on a strong painkiller as along as:

• The medicine has been prescribed to treat a medical problem (it is therefore worthwhile carrying a copy of your prescription and or the original box/packaging with you, so that the traffic police can verify your prescription)

• You have taken it according to the instructions given by your prescriber or the information provided with the medication

• It was not affecting your ability to drive safely

Sources of information taken from:

Drug driving: guidance for healthcare professionals July 2014

Analgesic drugs and fitness to drive. Palliative Care Formulary 5th Edition. Palliativedrugs.com 2014

Information on driving whilst taking strong painkillers

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