A sevenfold increase in opioid-related car crash deaths has recently been reported by researchers. Yet another sure sign the U.S. opioid epidemic is deadlier than ever. More drivers than ever before are dying in crashes while under the influence of prescription painkillers. Columbia University researchers released a statement discussing how prescriptions for opioids like morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone have more than quadrupled in recent years. Seventy-six million were reported in 1991 compared to the 300 million in 2014.
With numbers soaring to such heights, it isn’t surprising we are beginning to see a connection to highway deaths. The increase in drivers testing positive for prescription opioids has become a public health concern in 2017. These types of drugs are used to kill pain from serious injury. Their effects include slowed reaction times, impaired cognitive skills, and drowsiness. All things that add a significant risk while driving. While it’s true that these prescription painkiller users are driving under the influence with more regularity than ever before, researchers say they still need to do more research before any clear facts are established.
This rising epidemic has caught the eye of more than one activist organization, including MADD or Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They have voiced their concerns over the lack of reliable testing for opioids on the road and committed themselves to fighting the problem along with all impairing drugs.
The data from the most recent reports comes from professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Guohua Li and lead researcher Stanford Chihuri, staff associate in the department of anesthesiology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, who studied two decades of statistics from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The study revolved around drivers in Hawaii, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Illinois, Rhode Island and California who died within one hour of a car accident. The states studied regularly test for drug use in car accident victims. Almost 37,000 drivers were represented in the research study. Twenty-four percent tested positive for drug use. Approximately three percent were prescription narcotics. In those 3%, 30% also had alcohol in their system. Almost 70% had traces of other substances in their system.
The study showed an interesting fact, less men than women showed positive for prescription drugs. Three percent as opposed to 4 percent for women. Of the men killed while driving under the influence of prescription painkillers, frequency of prescription opioids rose from less than 1% from 1995 to 1999 to over 5% between 2010 and 2015. Among women drivers, numbers ranged from just over 1% to slightly over 7% during the same time frame. The research presented facts to show opioid abuse causes problems far beyond addiction and overdose.
Travel safety experts have presented a question. What if the increase in the presence of prescription pain medicine in drivers is due only to the increased testing for it through the years? Another question is whether the same protocols were used in testing in all states. Jim Hedlund, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, does not feel these statistics are entirely accurate or necessarily point to any epidemic. He stated that the presence of a drug does not indicate an impairment of faculties.
Regardless of the questions, the study does show more opioids are found in fatal car accidents. The first line of defense is for doctors to fully explain to their patients how dangerous it is to drive while taking these medications.