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Morphine Painkillers Won't Impair Driving

Study found no difference in motorists' reaction times

SATURDAY, Oct. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Moderate, long-term use of opioid pain medications such as morphine does not impair a person's driving ability, U.S. researchers report.

A team at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago compared two groups of people -- 51 long-term users of oral morphine and 49 who weren't taking any pain medication. All the participants spent about 12 minutes in a driving simulator that measured deviation from the center of the road, weaving, number of accidents, and reaction time to unexpected events.

The average amount of weaving for both groups was 3.83 feet, and the morphine group had 5.33 collisions, compared with 5.04 collisions for the control group. Average reaction time for the morphine group was 0.67 seconds, compared with 0.69 seconds for the control group.

The findings suggest that patients who require long-term pain medication may "become tolerant" to side effects that could potentially impair function, said researcher Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, an associate professor in the anesthesiology department at Rush.

The study was expected to be presented Oct. 13 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, in San Francisco.

Opioid pain relievers carry warning labels urging patients not to drive or operate heavy machinery while taking the medications, and drivers under the influence of pain drugs are typically subject to the same laws and penalties as people who drink and drive.

According to Buvanendran, this study's findings suggest that patients on long-term pain medication may be able to live "like normal functioning people, without the stigma and limitations now associated with long-term pain medication use."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about chronic pain medicines.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Society of Anesthesiologists, news release, Oct. 13, 2007

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