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Southern DHB Persistent Pain Service

Public Service, Pain Management

Driving and Strong Medications for Pain Control

If you drive you may be concerned about safety. Please read this carefully, it will help you to decide.

How Pain Medicines Affect People

Strong pain medications affect each person in a different way. Strong pain medications make some people drowsy and reaction times can be slowed. This may be worse if you take other medicines or tablets that also cause drowsiness, or if you drink alcohol. Some medications can affect your eyesight.

Pain medicines commonly prescribed to control pain include:

  • Anticonvulsants 
    e.g. gabapentin (Neurontin, Neupentin), sodium valproate (Epilim) carbamazepine (CBZ) pregabalin
  • Tricyclics and similar
    e.g. amitriptyline, doxepin, dothiepin, nortriptyline, venlafaxine
  • Opioids
    e.g. codeine, tramadol, DHC
  • Strong opioids
    e.g. methadone, fentanyl, buprenorphine, morphine (m-Eslon, LA Morph, RA Morph, Sevredol) oxycodone (Oxynorm /oxycodone CR, Oxycontin)  
  • Others
    e.g. clonidine, baclofen, flecainide

These are only some of the medications. Brand names change from time to time so check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist whether your medication is in one of these categories.

Advice about Driving if you Take Strong Medications

General health, past exposure to medications, weight, and medication taken for other conditions can cause different responses to medication. Strong medications to control pain should not affect your ability to drive after you have had time to adjust to them. However, it may take you some time to adjust to side effects affecting your ability to drive. If you are driving when on medication you should:

  • Avoid driving if you experience drowsiness, dizziness, feel unsteady, have blurred vision, or when your doctor advises you not to.
  • Reassess your ability to drive if you are prescribed medication for another health condition, or obtain them from the chemist e.g. hay fever medicine.
  • Make sure your reactions have not been slowed.
  • Not drink alcohol or take non-prescribed strong drugs, e.g. cannabis. They alter your tolerance to prescribed medication and lower your ability to drive safely.
  • Your ability to drive safely on days when you take extra (rescue) doses of strong pain relieving medication will be impaired, e.g. Oxycontin, Oxynorm, Sevredol, oral morphine. Generally this would NOT be a safe situation for driving.

You have a responsibility to remain safe when driving. It is important for you to regularly reassess your ability to drive. If poor co-ordination, or concentration affects your ability to do household and other tasks, you must not drive.

Restarting Driving

When you are confident that your medication is not causing side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, feeling unsteady, or blurred vision, you can start driving.

A close friend or family member may help you decide if you are ready to drive. Judge your ability to drive on how well you are managing to cope at home.

Make your first trip:

  • short
  • on roads you are familiar with
  • at a time when traffic is not too busy.

You may find it helpful to have an experienced driver accompany you to begin with in case you find that you are unable to complete your journey.

New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA)

You do not need to inform NZTA that you are starting a strong pain medication. However, there may be other information about your illness that the NZTA needs to know. If you are concerned, the NZTA can advise you about this.

Car Insurance

You may need to inform your motor insurance company about your current state of health and what medication you are taking.

Each insurance company is different. Check your insurance policy or discuss your circumstances with your insurance company to be sure that you are covered.

Your medical specialist or your GP can help you decide when it is safe to drive. If you have questions about the information in this leaflet please don’t hesitate to ask a member of the Pain Service.

How to Contact the NZTA

Telephone number for licensing enquiries: 0800 822 422

Have your driving licence number available.

Website: www.nzta.govt.nz

Drivers and Vehicle Licensing
AA Building
450 Moray Place
PO Box 5245

Victoria Arcade
44 Victoria Street
Private Bag 6995
Wellington 6141

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This page was last updated at 2:19PM on June 30, 2021.