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Psychiatric survivor tackles road safety


“I don’t want to knock anybody--I want change.”

Wayne Lax of Kenora, after spending 25 years haunted by alcoholism, extensive drug therapy, and more than 80 shock treatments, is now taking a stand against impaired driving.

But it’s not specifically drinking and driving he has his sights on--Lax said patients taking prescription drugs also pose a potential hazard on the road.

“If you’re confused, you shouldn’t be driving,” he stressed. “The ministry has to enforce this--it’s the law. But [medicated drivers] are still out there.”

Lax cited a case he knew of personally that still hasn’t ceased to amaze him. “[The person’s] been treated for epileptic seizures and he’s still driving--that’s like leaving the barn door open for the horses,” he remarked.

Joanne Jarvis, National Victim Services co-ordinator for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), has known Lax for about a year and agrees with his stance on road safety.

“It’s the law that physicians, who are treating anyone who is taking medication that could impair their operation of a motor vehicle, submit an application to the ministry to have that license suspended for a period of time,” Jarvis noted.

“Without supporting his case specifically, we support road safety across the board, and in Mr. Lax’s case, he’s certainly right in his support of the cause,” she said.

“As citizens, we have a responsibility to promote [responsible driving] and so do doctors. We don’t want to see anyone driving impaired,” she stressed.

Problems with alcohol--and then drugs--is something Lax is familiar with. Now 58, he became an alcoholic when he was 25 after he found his brother dead, killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Soon afterwards, he was beset by hallucinations and voices telling him to kill himself. He needed help.

But “help,” in his opinion, was not what he received after being treated for his drinking and depression with 25 years’ worth of different kinds of prescription medication and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments.

On a psychiatric treatment regimen, Lax was in a single vehicle car accident, charged with impaired driving, and convicted in July, 1992.

The month before, he had received ECT treatments at Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital in Thunder Bay and was still suffering from the effects, including dizziness, confusion, tremors, memory loss, and worse.

But the accident did get him on the “straight and narrow.”

“I realized, ‘My God, where have I been?’” related Lax. After more than a year without medication, he cut out the drinking and the “voices” in his head stopped.

And he hasn’t been in a hospital since.

But Lax’s “beef” lies with fact that while he was a cab driver in Kenora the entire time he was getting treatment for his problems, at no time was his licence revoked nor was he advised not to drive.

“I was definitely a menace on the road but I never knew it. I was told to go to work,” he recalled. “But I’m afraid to say it has happened to thousands of other people.”

Lax lost his licence for one year at that time. “That’s when I began to think about others like me,” he said.

He has written countless letters to ask for support from several politicians, including Transportation minister Tony Clement, and received the following reply.

“Representatives from the Medical Review Section work closely with the medical community to ensure that legislation and medical review procedures are understood and adhered to,” he noted.

“The physicians’ reporting requirement is a crucial piece of safety legislation,” added Clement. “Your comments will be taken into consideration when this ministry reviews our proposed improvements to the reporting requirement.”

And Lax now feels that, thanks to his letters and media exposure, the government has since gotten “a little better” in its enforcement of impaired driving.

Ironically, in March, 1996, the ministry’s licensing branch suspended his licence after learning of his medical history but reinstated it two months later when the MTO received a psychiatric assessment citing Lax’s improved mental health.

“I know several people who lost their licenses for three months due to medication but whether they agree or not, it’s for the better,” he noted.

With his concerns duly noted by the MTO, Lax now looks to raise public awareness of impaired driving.

More than taking aim at psychiatric professionals, Lax stressed patients on medication can take responsibility for themselves and others, and consult their physician or pharmacist.

“Everybody has to work together--patients, families, pharmacists,” he said. “The question to ask should be, ‘Should I be driving?’”

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