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Increased accident risk with psychoactive drugs

By Christian Duffin

Patients taking psychoactive drugs are at increased risk of causing and being involved in traffic accidents, a systematic review and meta-analysis shows.

Australian researchers examined 90 studies of three classes of psychoactive drugs – benzodiazepines and non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, antidepressants and opioids – and the risk of traffic accidents.

Two meta-analyses showed that benzodiazepines led to a 60-80% increase in the risk of traffic accidents and a 40% increase in ‘accident responsibility’ compared with non-users.

Elderly drivers on benzodiazepines had a 13% higher risk of accidents than non-users, while drivers under 65 had more than a two-fold risk, ‘a result consistent with age-stratified risk differences reported in cohort studies’. Taking benzodiazepines and consuming alcohol raised the risk to more than seven-fold.

Anxiolytics and hypnotics both significantly impaired driving performance, and tricyclic antidepressants increased the accident risk in the elderly but not in younger patients.

Lead researcher Dr Tharaka Dassanayake, a visiting researcher at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, said: ‘Benzodiazepine use was associated with a significant increase in the risk of traffic accidents and responsibility of drivers for accidents.’

Drug Safety vol 34 no2, 1 February 2011, pp. 125-156