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How do heroin and other opioids affect driving?

Heroin is one of a group of drugs known as 'opioids'. Other opioids include drugs such as morphine, codeine, pethidine, oxycodone, opium, methadone and buprenorphine.

This page covers the use of heroin, and some other opioids, whilst driving. If you are using an opioid prescribed by your doctor, read our fact sheet Medication and driving for more information, and talk to your doctor about the effects of your medication on your ability to drive safely.

Read the facts about heroin.

Effects of heroin and other opioids on driving

Heroin and other opioids are depressant drugs, which means they slow down the messages travelling between the brain and body.

The effects of any drug (including heroin and other opioids vary from person to person. How they affect a person depends on many things including size, weight and health, also whether the person is used to taking it. The effects of heroin and other opioids, as with any drug, also depend on the amount taken.

There is no safe level of opioid use. Use of any drug always carries some risk – even medications can produce unwanted side  effects. It is important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

This makes it difficult to predict exactly, in what way, and for how long, opioids will affect a person’s ability to drive safely. As a general guide, some of the effects may include:

  • Slow reaction time
  • Taking longer to respond to events or situations, and possibly choosing an inappropriate response
  • Reduced coordination
  • Reduced ability to think clearly
  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness or starting to 'nod off'
  • Nausea and vomiting


Some people may experience withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the heroin or opioid wears off. These can include cravings or 'hanging out', cramps and 'flu-like symptoms which may also affect a person’s driving ability.

A person who has been using heroin may think that, if they are especially careful, they will be able to drive safely. However, the drug may have affected their view and experience of reality, and their judgement. Their actions and responses may be impaired, but they may not be aware of how much their driving skills have been affected.

Safer driving tips

If you intend to use heroin or opioids, the safest option is not to drive.

The effects of heroin and opioids may last up to 24 hours.

If you have used heroin or opioids make sure you have had several hours sleep and avoid driving late at night or early in the morning, when natural tiredness may increase the sedating effects of the drug.

Find more information for drivers.

 

Last updated: 21 May 2014

 
Information you heard is intended as a general guide only. This audio is copyrighted by the Australian Drug Foundation. Visit www.DrugInfo.ADF.org.au for more