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Dangers of mixing prescription meds with other substances the focus of new public awareness campaign

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A new public awareness campaign launched by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency today highlights the risk of people mixing prescription meds with other substances and driving.

Educating drivers on the impact of drugs, alcohol, and mixed substances is a key part of the Government’s Road to Zero strategy, which aims to reduce deaths and injuries from road crashes in New Zealand by 40 percent by 2030.

Road To Zero

Waka Kotahi Director of Land Transport Kane Patena says the use of multiple substances by drivers across Aotearoa is common, including illegal drugs, prescription medications, and alcohol. Laboratory testing shows almost half of drivers who were killed with alcohol in their systems while driving had also taken another substance, whether they were below the legal limit for blood alcohol or not.

“This presents a major safety risk to everyone who uses the roads. In both 2019 and 2020, over 100 people were killed in crashes where a driver was found to have drugs in their system. Research shows there is a significant increase in crash risk for drivers taking a combination of substances. The multiplied effect can impact people’s brains and bodies in ways that are particularly dangerous for driving. Combining substances can multiply their effects and reduce coordination, blur vision, cause nausea, and impede reaction times - all of which significantly reduces your ability to drive safely,” Mr Patena says.

Half of New Zealanders, at any time, have been prescribed strong pain, depression or anti-anxiety medication, with 28% being prescribed these medications in the past year. One in six New Zealanders report having driven a vehicle under the influence of strong pain, depression or anti-anxiety medications.

The new campaign uses testimonies from police, medical and healthcare professionals on the impact of a range of substance combinations, and their ability to impact people’s ability to drive safely.

“Mixing substances and driving is not something most people would be aware of, but it has a big impact on the ability to drive safely, and it needs to be talked about,” says toxicologist Dr Helen Poulsen, who has lent her voice to the campaign.

The public awareness campaign supports targeted on-road police enforcement of impaired driving.

Earlier this month Government announced that random roadside drug testing will come into force from next year to deter drug-impaired driving as part of the Road to Zero strategy.

Beehive media release: Govt taking action to prevent drug-related road injuries(external link)

Further information on the new campaign

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