Medication Side Effects: The Normal, the Strange, and the Dangerous

Over the weekend, comedian Roseann Barr caused ripples in nearly every corner of the internet when she went on a “tweetstorm” and posted a series of offensive comments on Twitter, including a racist remark about an aide for former president Barack Obama. Though her long-running sitcom, Roseann, was in the middle of a successful reboot, her comments were met with immediate backlash, and the show was canceled.

While the damage has been done, Barr issued an apology, calling her comments indefensible. Hopefully, her apology is a sign of genuine change. But in her apology on Twitter, she also placed some of the blame on an interesting culprit: Ambien. By mentioning that she was on Ambien at the time of tweets, Barr implies that her use of the insomnia-relief drug contributed to her remarks.

While the debate over Barr’s comments continues, her remarks also raise some questions about the influence of medications. Do medications really have that much of an impact? Can medication affect driving or increase the chances of an injury? And if someone causes an accident while under the influence of legally prescribed medication, are they still liable?

Side Effects

According to a study by the Mayo Clinic, seven out of every ten Americans take some kind of prescription medication. More than half of Americans take at least two medications and 20% are on at least five. There are many reasons why a person might use medication. They might take medication to treat an infection, relieve chronic symptoms, or help them cope after an injury.

That said, many medications have troubling side effects—including some that may influence behavior and actions. Ambien, for example, helps relieve insomnia, but can also lead to aggression, confusion, and an inability to concentrate. In many cases, people on Ambien report strange behavior, but do not remember actually doing it.

Obviously, this kind of drug-induced behavior has the potential to be very dangerous. For example, someone on Ambien could unknowingly attempt to drive to the store and cause an accident. Many other prescription medications also cause drowsiness, dizziness, or a lack of concentration, which can be just as dangerous.

According to a report from McGill University in Canada, some of the prescriptions medications most associated with car accidents include anti-anxiety drugs like Valium, Ativan, and Xanax. However, any kind of medication, from simple cough syrups to powerful opioids, can influence a person’s ability to drive, operate machinery, or perform other tasks.

Medicated Driving Liability

In most cases when legally prescribed drugs contributed to an accident, some of the liability likely falls on the person taking the medication. They should be aware of any side effects and how those side effects affect them, and should make responsible decisions. For example, if someone knows that their medication makes them drowsy, they should plan ahead and make sure they are not taking that medication before driving. If they know a medication is likely to contribute to risky behavior but still take that risk, they might be responsible for their own behavior.

The Potential for Malpractice

In other cases, their physicians or other medical provider might be partially liable. For this to occur, the medical provider would need to negligently omit necessary information. For example, if a doctor didn’t tell a patient that their anti-anxiety pills would react badly with their blood pressure medication, the doctor could be liable for any harm that occurs. When an incident like this occurs, it may fall under medical malpractice.

Many factors can play into an accident caused by medication. However, people can take some small steps to keep themselves and others safe, particularly on the roads. If you are taking any kind of medication, you should:

  • Understand how the medication and any side effects influence your ability to drive or perform other tasks
  • Talk to your doctor about any concerns about your medication
  • Avoid making any changes to your medical routine, like lowering your dosage, without consulting your doctor
  • Ask for help with transportation if you are feeling unwell or unable to drive

Medication plays an important role for many people, but it can quickly turn dangerous if it is misunderstood or abused. But by knowing your medication, you can prevent reckless behavior, whether it’s a car accident, work injury, or the urge to post a rant on Twitter.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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