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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Driving drowsy may be almost as risky as driving drunk. People who would never get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol frequently drive while impaired and don’t even realize it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an extraordinary number of Americans drive drowsy, and many even fall asleep: “Among nearly 150,000 adults aged at least 18 years or older in 19 states and the District of Columbia, 4.2 percent reported that they had fallen asleep while driving at least once in the previous 30 days.”
Crashes that lead to injuries or death involve at least one drowsy driver about 2 percent of the time. That’s probably because sleepy people react slowly and have trouble paying attention.
The CDC points to people who skimp on sleep or who have disorders such as sleep apnea as being especially susceptible to this problem. But sometimes people take medications that can make driving dangerous, whether they realize it or not.
Even if people are trying to get the sleep they need, taking sleep aids can backfire. The Food and Drug Administration recently strengthened its warning about the popular sleeping pill zolpidem (Ambien). The agency has received 700 reports of impaired driving ability and road traffic accidents associated with this drug. Many other sleeping pills also can lead to diminished alertness or impaired driving the following morning.
One teacher who had been taking Ambien remarked: “I began noticing that I could not remember students’ names, although these were children I had taught for several years! The final straw was when I woke up and realized I had driven my car to a local store and purchased items. I was getting ready to go to the store to buy these items when I discovered that I had already bought them during an Ambien blackout.”
A father traumatized his daughter by repeatedly running into the curb as he drove her to school. He had taken Ambien the night before. Although he had gotten a full night’s sleep, he considered himself a dangerous driving “zombie” the next morning.
Sleeping pills are not the only problem. Allergy season is underway in many parts of the country, and this season is expected to be especially severe. The antihistamines many people rely on to ease nasal symptoms also can impair driving. Over-the-counter medicines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can be as risky as alcohol (Annals of Internal Medicine, March 7, 2000).
Anti-anxiety drugs also can interfere with driving ability. Just as people who have had too many drinks are poor judges of their own ability to drive, people taking medications like alprazolam (Xanax) may not realize they pose a hazard on the road (Psychopharmacology, February 2012). Warnings such as “Until you experience how this medication affects you, do not drive a car or operate potentially dangerous machinery” may be meaningless.
When you receive a prescription, ask your doctor and pharmacist whether it could affect your driving ability. Even drugs that don’t make people drowsy can impair reaction time and judgment.
Q: After trying lots of medications for adult acne, I read a comment in The People’s Pharmacy column about using Listerine on the face. Within a short time of starting to use it daily, my face cleared up for the first time in years! I used the original amber Listerine with a cotton ball. Thank you.
A: We love hearing about home remedies that work. Quite a few people have found that old-fashioned Listerine can help clear up acne, though we do not know quite why.
Our Guide to Skin Care and Treatment covers a wide range of acne treatments. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (66 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. S-28, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website: www.peoplespharmacy.com.
Q: I have read that you can’t trust the label on some supplements. If it says “USP” on the container, can we assume that the product is what it says it is?
A: We were appalled to read the research published in JAMA Internal Medicine (online, Feb. 11, 2013) showing wide variations in compounded and OTC vitamin D pills. The scientists found that potency ranged from 9 percent to 146 percent of the dose listed on the label.
You are right that the FDA does not have the resources to check the quality of most supplements. You mention USP, the United States Pharmacopeia. This nongovernmental scientific organization has set quality standards for medicines for nearly 200 years. We spoke with a representative who told us that the USP Verified seal is backed by careful quality monitoring, including off-the-shelf vitamin testing.
“The People’s Pharmacy with Joe and Terry Graedon” airs Saturday at 7 a.m. on WVTF (89.1 FM) and at 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on RADIO IQ (89.7 FM). Joe and Teresa Graedon’s column runs in Tuesday’s Extra.
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