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New rules on ‘drug-driving’ look like a car crash

On occasion, especially here in the badlands of Essex, a person might decide to drive home from the pub even if they’ve had one over the eight (or 18, depending on whether it’s a school night or a weekend).

Swerving from side to side on the way back to Mon Beau Repos, they crash into a couple of unmarked police cars and end up in the cells pending conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Thankfully, it’s none of our business. It doesn’t matter to the police if they’re an alcoholic, bipolar, diabetic or hemiplegic patient: the law’s the law. They’re going down and there’s nothing you or I can do about it.

But as of next March it’ll be illegal to drive with blood levels of opiates, benzos or amphetamine-like drugs above a specified limit, whether your driving is impaired or not. There will be a set limit for each drug, just as there is with alcohol. However, and here’s the thing, if you are taking those drugs on prescription you’ll be free to go so long as your GP will confirm that you’re taking the meds exactly in accordance with his or her instructions.

For seven strong lagers and Jägerbomb chasers substitute tramadol, codeine, DF118 or whatever opiate you’re currently handing out to your motley crew of low back pain-suffering, depression-enduring, lead-swinging heartsink punters who somehow managed to wangle a disabled parking badge and a top spec Range Rover out of the Motability scheme.

And when (not ‘if’) he appears in court for ploughing through a crowd of schoolkids while monged out of his head on prescription painkillers and benzos, to save his drug-addled arse he will then be able to call upon ‘the medical defence’.

AKA his GP. AKA you.

It doesn’t matter where the drug came from if the blood level is high enough to impair a driver’s judgement any more than it would be a defence to say that the only reason you were caught drink driving is that your GP was buying drinks for everyone in the pub all night.

So when one of my patients ends up in court, accused of driving under the influence of prescribed medication, I’ll just point out to M’Lud that nobody ever takes their medicines ‘as directed’.

And even if I clearly label a prescription ‘one up to three times a day – do not exceed the recommended dose’, how am I supposed to stop Laughing Boy from necking six at one go, before falling asleep at the wheel and taking a murderous detour though Dagenham Sunday Market?

Leave me out of this lunatic scheme. Patients can take their meds or they can drive their cars. They’ll have to choose and they can deal with the fallout when, not if, they screw up. 

I’ve made a note in my diary for Monday 2 March 2015. It reads: ‘See accountant about early retirement again’. 

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield