Driving and Opioids


It is important that when you first start taking opioid medications or when you change the dose of your medication that you avoid driving an automobile and operating potentially dangerous equipment. This is for your own safety and for the protection of other persons. Until your body becomes accustomed to the opioids, you may feel sleepy, less alert, and/or have slower reaction times, which can result in serious accidents.

Over time, you will most likely be able to drive and operate equipment again, but you should ask your physician first regarding any concerns with your medications or a change in medications. It is important to remember that you may have poorer ability to drive or perform other tasks that require attention and skill, even if you do not feel sleepy or otherwise effected.

Depending upon your state of residence, it may be illegal for you to drive at all, even when taking a medically-recommended dose of prescription painkillers. As laws can change over time, please consult your state’s government website to understand the laws governing driving while on prescription medications, such as opioids. It is your responsibility to be up-to-date on the DEA, state, and federal regulations and guidelines; lack of knowledge will not be accepted as an excuse by government agencies.

It is ALWAYS illegal to drive while impaired by any substance, including opioids and benzodiazepines, in ALL states.

Currently, as of 2013, there are 15 states in which driving with any amount of an impairing drug, include prescription opioids, is illegal: Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Keep in mind that even if you didn’t take your painkiller that day, you likely still have remnants of the opioids in your bloodstream. The presence of such metabolites in your body could lead to a driving or operating while intoxicated charge in these states, according to the NIDA. Check your state government website for further details and regulations.

California has particularly strict laws when it comes to “drugged driving,” according to the unofficial DMV Guide. The law does not distinguish between illegal drugs, opioid prescription drugs, alcohol and over-the-counter remedies. Even driving after taking an over-the-counter medication that causes drowsiness could result in a driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge if the police officer feels you are impaired. You could be charged even if you have a legal prescription. Always err on the side of safety—use caution with any medication, especially opioids, when driving.