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Drugged Driving Risks May Rival Those Of Drunk Driving: Study

A new report released by highway safety officials warns about the rising risks associated with drugged driving, citing an increase in recent years involving fatal accidents where drivers where found to be under the influence of marijuana and opioids specifically.

According to a drug impaired driving study released this month by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the rates of fatalities linked to accidents where drivers were under the influence of drugs has increased significantly since 2007, now rivaling rates associated with drinking and driving.

GHSA officials collected crash data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), focusing on the presence of drugs among fatally-injured drivers. In 2016, the report finds that 43.6 percent of the drivers with known test results were drug-positive, compared to the 27.8 percent average in 2006.

In contrast, the rate of alcohol involved fatal accidents appears to be decreasing, with findings suggesting that 41 percent of all drivers with known test results were alcohol positive, compared to the 37.9 percent recorded in 2016.

A deeper look at the data revealed that among drug-tested drivers who were fatally-injured in 2016, 38 percent tested positive for some form of marijuana, 16 percent tested positive for opioids, and 4 percent tested positive for both marijuana and opioids.

While alcohol impaired crash fatalities appear to be decreasing, the annual number of deaths linked to drugged driving increased in 2015 and 2016. Officials believe the legalization of marijuana and the increasing level of opioid addiction across the nation is playing a major role in the increased drug-impaired fatalities.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified a significant increase in the use of opioids across the nation, finding opioids were involved in 42,249 deaths in 2016, which is five times as many recorded in 1999.

Marijuana has become legalized in nine states, and use has been decriminalized in other states, with medical use of marijuana now approved in at least 29 states to date, resulting in an increase in the number of users nationwide.

One of the challenges highway officials face is that there is no nationally accepted way of testing drivers for drug impairment at the time of the traffic stop, as officers can do for alcohol by measuring a driver’s blood-alcohol-concentration (BAC) with a breathalyzer.

GHSA executive director, Jonathan Adkins, said in a release that many individuals operate under the false belief that marijuana or opioids do not impair their ability to drive, or event that these drugs make them safer drivers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) held a summit in March to lead a campaign and call-to-action by bringing together key stakeholders such as safety partners, state and local officials, data and policy experts, law enforcement, criminal justice professionals, toxicologists, and drug recognition experts.

The new initiative to combat drugged driving outlines the steps are being taken in response to the growing opioid epidemic in the U.S., and the trend of states legalizing the use of marijuana.

Prior studies have shown an upward trend of drug use across the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found more than 20.7 million people over the age of 16 years of age self-reported driving under the influence of alcohol, and another 11.8 million reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs.

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