A CBS News story reports that prescriptions for OxyContin (oxycodone), Vicoprofen (hydrocodone) and morphine have quadrupled from 76 million in 1991 to nearly 300 million in 2014. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that opioids killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, which is more than any year on record.
One of the side-effects of the deadly opioid epidemic in the United States is a seven-fold spike in the number of traffic fatalities resulting from people driving under the influence of prescription opioid painkillers. Stanford Chihuri and Dr. Gouhua Li, studied two decades of data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), for a Columbia University study on opioid-related traffic fatalities, published in the American Journal of Public Health. They used data from states which routinely test for drug use in people who have died in traffic crashes. Of the approximately 37,000 drivers in the study, 24 percent had drugs in their system, three percent of which were prescription narcotics. Among the three percent who tested positive for narcotics, 30% also had high levels of alcohol and 67% had traces of other drugs in their systems as well, according to researchers.
As Dr. Li put it, “Our study suggests that increases in opioid consumption may carry adverse health consequences far beyond overdose morbidity and mortality.”
How do opioid painkillers affect you when you drive?
Prescription opioids can slow a driver’s reaction time, and increase drowsiness, which impairs the driver’s thinking and motor skills just like alcohol use does. According to Drug Abuse.com, the physical signs and symptoms of a person who is abusing opioids include:
- Noticeable elation/euphoria
- Marked sedation/ drowsiness
- Slowed breathing
- Intermittent nodding off, or loss of consciousness
- Constricted pupils
Though law enforcement has reliable tests that they can administer to drivers suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, no such test exists for narcotic intoxication or impairment. The researchers in the study called for more study and analysis about how specific drugs and doses impact drivers.
They also underscored the importance of doctors and pharmacists making their patients aware of how the drugs they prescribe will impact their ability to function and how dangerous it can be to drive while under the influence of opioid painkillers.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident that was caused by a driver impaired by drugs or alcohol, the skilled Oklahoma City car accident attorneys at Cunningham & Mears will evaluate your car crash case and fight for you the compensation you need. For a free consultation at our offices, call 405-212-9234 or fill out our contact form today.