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Driving whilst taking strong painkillers

How will strong painkillers affect me?
Strong painkillers can affect each person in a different way.  They may make you drowsy (sleepy) which can cause you to react slower than usual.  These effects can be made worse if you are also taking other medicines that can cause drowsiness.  Drinking alcohol whilst taking strong painkillers can also make you more drowsy.

What are strong painkillers?
There are a number of strong painkillers available.  Strong painkillers commonly prescribed by doctors include:  Oramorph, MST, Oxynorm, Fentanyl, Oxycontin and Sevredol. 

Advice on driving whilst taking strong painkillers
You should not drive for at least five days when you first start taking strong painkillers, or if you are changing the dose of strong painkillers.  Sometimes longer is needed.  

There will be other times when you must not drive, these include: 

  • if you feel drowsy
  • if you have drunk alcohol
  • if you have taken extra doses of strong painkillers for breakthrough pain 
  • if you start taking other drugs prescribed by your doctor or bought from a chemist that may cause drowsiness, for example some hay fever medicines
  • after taking strong drugs which have not been prescribed by your doctor, for example cannabis

When can I start driving?
If you are not drowsy after you have been taking your strong painkillers for five days you can start driving again.  Your first trip should be:

  • Short
  • On roads that you are used to
  • At a time when the traffic is not too busy

You may also find it helps to have an experienced driver with you to begin with in case you cannot finish your journey.

Do I need to inform the Drivers Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) if I am taking strong painkillers?
No, you do not need to inform the DVLA that you are taking strong painkillers.  However, there may be other information about your illness that the DVLA should know.  Your doctor or the DVLA can give you more advice about this.

How do I contact the DVLA?
Contact details for the DVLA are: 

        Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)
        Longview Road
        SA99 8QD
        Phone: 0870 600 0301

You will need to know your driving licence number when you contact them.

What about my car insurance company?
You should tell your motor insurance company about your current state of health, and what medication you are taking.  Each insurance company is different.  It is best to discuss your situation with your insurance company to make sure that you are covered.

If you need further information your GP or a member of your Palliative Care team of doctors and nurses will be happy to discuss any questions you have and help you decide when it is safe for you to drive.  

Contact telephone numbers

Velindre Cancer Centre - 029 2061 5888

Palliative Medicine - 029 2061 5888 ext 6838

Pharmacy department - 029 2061 5888 ext 6223
(Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm)

This leaflet was written by health professionals.  The information contained in this leaflet is evidence based.  It has been approved by doctors, nurses and patients.  It is reviewed and updated every 2 years.