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Dr. Barry Logan co-authors report that begins effort to assess drug impairment while driving

04/12/2011

Current medication labels often warn that “this medication may cause drowsiness, use caution when driving.” However, these labels fail to communicate the extent to which the drug impairs driving and increases the risk of a crash. In an effort to provide more concrete information regarding how safe it is to drive while taking a specific drug, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) consulted with Dr. Barry Logan, Director of Forensic Services at NMS Labs in Willow Grove, PA and a group of expert forensic toxicologists, behavioral scientists, epidemiologists, pharmacologists, and traffic safety professionals to develop a consistent strategy for assessing the impact of certain drugs on a person’s driving. The task force recently published their drug assessment plan in a report, “Drugged Driving Expert Panel Report: A Consensus Protocol for Assessing the Potential of Drugs to Impair Driving.” Drugs include prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and illicit drugs. The report also offers examples of how the protocol could be used to evaluate a drug. Dr. Logan, who oversaw the development of NMS Labs specialized toxicology testing for drug recognition experts and law enforcement and a co-author of NHTSA’s report, said, “This input from scientists in various disciplines helped us understand the many ways in which driving can be affected by drug or medication use. These effects can happen in normal low-risk daily driving as well as high demand situations that could result in injuries or death, such as someone running a red light or drifting off the road. Having more information about medications that don’t have as much impact on driving would be a great step forward in patient safety.” Having more information available about how long a drug might impair a driver and whether less debilitating alternatives could be used to treat a particular condition will help physicians, prescribers, pharmacists, and patients to make safer decisions. The panel recommended that drugs already known to cause impairment, as well as new drugs coming to the market, should be scrutinized through a standard battery of tests for evidence of effects including arousal – how quickly someone can change from a resting state to an active one to respond to an emergency or change in conditions; alertness and processing speed – how aware a driver is to his/her environment and how quickly he/she can process new information, such as changes in other drivers' behavior; and executive function – people's ability to make intelligent decisions based on what they see and hear, how they assess risk, and how they rate their own driving ability. These three factors along with two others, reaction time and sensory/perceptual function, comprise a battery of five key “domains” of driving performance that can be assessed safely in a laboratory or study setting before a drug is released to the market. As a result, patients can be better warned about adverse effects. The report is being circulated to traffic safety professionals worldwide, and the panel members are looking forward to feedback and opportunities to begin implementing the proposed testing.

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