By John McElligott, MD
Medicines – both prescribed and available over the counter – can make your headache go away, reduce fever, attack germs, help you sleep, alleviate pain, keep your body’s blood the right consistency, and do more than we can list here.
And while meds can be critical to your good health, you need to keep one important fact in mind: You are different from most people. You are a trucker in a highly regulated industry. You have a job that requires you to be alert, clearheaded. Not struggling to stay awake.
Because of that, it’s simply not in your best interest to take some meds and drive. Just because it is on the shelf or a doctor gives you a prescription doesn’t necessarily make it OK.
In my practice, I see hundreds of truck drivers a year and talk to even more. If you are like most of my trucking patients, you are a bit unsure about what’s in the meds you are taking. Many of the drivers who come to me are not even sure of the name of the prescription, let alone the dosage or side effects.
It may seem like a Catch-22 that an injury or a condition may require the use of an over-the-counter medication or prescription med, but the one provided may have problematic consequences. Asking a lot of questions and reading labels will help make sure you get medicine that will not interfere with your livelihood.
Prescription medication is given by many medical providers without any idea as to the occupation of the person receiving the medication. Perhaps the DOT doc is clued in to what you can and cannot take, but your family doc or a specialist you see may not be. So let’s talk a minute about those drugs.
Pain is a problem in all professions but is especially prevalent in trucking. With flatbed drivers, it’s overuse of big joints such as the shoulders and arms. With van haulers, it’s lower back and leg pain from underuse. These begin to hurt and often are treated with medications that are “mind altering” (no, that does not mean “tripping”) and cause sleepiness.
Pain meds such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and tramadol are commonly prescribed pain medications. I think they need to be avoided by drivers whenever possible because these medications treat the brain, but do nothing to treat the underlying problem, and can be addictive.
Muscle relaxers like Flexeril are OK but need to be taken before you sleep or at the end of a driving day. Avoid benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium since these are seriously sedating.
Effects of blood pressure medicine are not predictable in all people, so if you notice fatigue or have difficulty staying awake, try taking the medicine before you hit the bunk. All hypertension medication can cause fatigue in the early stages of treatment and subsides as the body adjusts to lower blood pressures. Medications that often cause you to feel sluggish include beta blockers (atenolol, propranolol, metoprolol). Again, use common sense. If the blood pressure medicine makes you fatigued or sleepy, push it back to a bedtime dose and let your doctor know.
Some medicines that you can buy over the counter from your pharmacy or a supermarket have the potential to cause drowsiness. This includes medicines that you might take for allergies such as hay fever, cough or anti-nausea treatments. Read the label.
Remember, some of the medications have a cumulative effect. A good example is Benadryl, used by many drivers for allergies and also to sleep. Benadryl is a good drug but not when driving. Again, read the label.
For you drivers to be safe we need to educate the medical providers who treat you. Make sure your doctors know you are a professional driver operating a very large vehicle for long periods of time and often far away from home. I can honestly say from being one of those providers that many doctors simply don’t understand the demands of a professional driver’s job.
Drugs you may need were not designed with you in mind. In my opinion, the solution is partly education of drivers and partly an effort from the prescribing physician to “tailor” drug treatment to the trucking profession. LL
John McElligott is an MD and Fellow the American College of Physicians. Jeff Heinrich, who serves as the column’s medical editor, has a Doctor of Education degree and PA-C, which means Physician Assistant Certified.
This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Land Line Magazine or its publisher. Please remember everyone’s health situation is different. If you have questions regarding medical issues, consult your personal physician.