Antidepressants, sleeping pills raise driving risk

Drivers who take certain antidepressants, anti-anxiety or sleeping pills could be at higher risk for motor vehicle collisions.

Drivers who take certain antidepressants, anti-anxiety or sleeping pills could be at higher risk for motor vehicle collisions.

Psychotropic drugs can impair a driver's ability to control a vehicle, but there's been less research on newer drugs used to treat insomnia.

People taking certain psychotropic medications should pay more attention to their driving performance, researchers say. (Brett Carlsen/Flint Journal/Associated Press)

To learn more, researchers in Taiwan compared drug use among 5,183 people involved in motor vehicle accidents with a second group of 31,093 people of the same age and gender who went for outpatient care between 2000 and 2009.

In Thursday's issue of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, they concluded that those taking two types of antidepressants, sleep aids known as Z-drugs, and benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety  and insomnia, face increased risk of motor vehicle accidents compared with people not taking those types of drugs.

The antidepressants studied included selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or SSRIs like paroxitine or Paxil and fluoxetine or Prozac and tricyclic or TCA antidepressants such as amiptriptyline.

The Z-drugs were zolpidem, zopiclone and zaleplon.

Benzodiazepines include hypnotics like triazolam and anti-anxiety medications such as lorazepam.

Accidents and doctor visits

"The findings underscore that subjects taking these psychotropic medications should pay increased attention to their driving performance in order to prevent …motor vehicle accidents," lead researcher Hui-Ju Tsai, of the National Health Research Institutes in Zhunan, Taiwan, and co-authors concluded.

The authors recommended that patients do not stop taking their medication, but check with their doctor if concerned.

The findings did not suggest that exposure to antipsychotics, both older typical medications and atypical, was associated with risk of collisions.

The study was large and one of the few to look at four different types of psychotropic drugs at once.

While the cases and controls were matched for age and gender and other medical conditions were taken into account in the analysis, other risk factors such as high job stress or recent relocation were not.

The researchers also didn't consider use of alcohol and illicit drugs.

The study was funded by the Taiwan Department of Health and National Health Research Institutes.