Drugged driving: Are prescription painkillers making you a liability?

Are your prescription drugs affecting your ability to drive?

Driving under the influence of any drug, prescribed or not, can have fatal consequences. Doing so endangers not only yourself, but your passengers and every other person sharing the road with you.

If you find yourself struggling with prescription painkillers or other drugs, consider the following cautions and risks before grabbing your keys.

What drugs do to your driving abilities

Drugs, like alcohol, take a heavy toll on the skills and emotional temperament needed to drive safely.

There are many different effects drugs can have on the brain: slowing reaction time; impairing judgment of time and distance; decreasing coordination; and increasing aggressiveness, recklessness, dizziness and drowsiness, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

All these impairments can lead to vehicle crashes and unintended consequences for all people involved in an accident. Unfortunately, this is a wide-spread problem.

There were over 32.5 million impaired drivers on the roads in 2014 - all with either alcohol or drugs - or a combination of both - found in their system, reports the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality.

Accidents and prescription drugs

Prescription drugs are the next most commonly linked source of impairment, following alcohol and alcohol-drug mixtures, reports the National Institute of Drug Abuse. This is a serious problem, serious enough that in a 2010 nationwide study of deadly crashes it was found that about 47 percent of drivers who tested positive for drugs had used a prescription drug. This was compared with 37 percent of drivers who had used marijuana and about 10 percent who had used cocaine or other hardcore drugs.

Drivers should also be wary of mixing drugs. This is especially true with prescriptions, especially painkillers.

Drugs and teens

Not only are young drivers less experienced and less likely to recognize dangerous situations on the road, but they also are also more likely to speed and disregard other safe driving practices, as CBS News notes.

This lack of road experience combined with drug use can be especially deadly.

Since car crashes are the leading cause of death for youths 16 to 19, parents must be aware of their teenagers' activities and involved in their lives, especially if they consider them at risk, suggests The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While every parent would hope that their child wouldn't get in a car with someone who is impaired, this scenario is too often a reality.

"When teens' relative lack of driving experience is combined with the use of marijuana or other substances that affect cognitive and motor abilities, the results can be tragic," says the NCADD. "In 2011, 12 percent of high school seniors responding to the Monitoring the Future survey admitted to driving under the influence of marijuana in the two weeks prior to the survey."

Know what your teens are doing and work to establish a relationship of trust. You want to be the one they call for a ride should a situation get out of hand.

What to do for prevention

Everyone should be ready with a response should a situation arise where a driver is impaired, especially if they expect to give you a ride home.

Have a plan in place well before any party or event. Using a designated driver, a cab or a bus or possibly staying over for the night are excellent alternatives to driving. Having a designated person to oversee these alternatives is key to ensuring that everyone gets home safely.

Looking for more safe driving tips? Be sure to check out WTOV9's "Drive Safe" series for information about other dangerous driving scenarios.