As the opioid epidemic in the United States worsens, new research notes that there have been sharp increases in the rate of serious auto accidents injuries involving drivers under the influence of the narcotic painkillers.
According to a study published last month in the American Journal of Public Health, the number of drivers killed in car accidents who tested positive for opioids has increased sevenfold from 1995 to 2015.
Researchers analyzed data over the twenty year period, from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which includes information from California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia. Each of these states routinely test for drugs in drivers who have died in car crashes.
Data included toxicological tests for drivers fatally injured within one hour of a crash, with researchers compiling information for nearly 37,000 drivers. Overall, 24% of drivers had drugs in their system, with 3% testing positive for narcotics.
In 1995, only 1% of drivers killed in auto accidents tested positive for opioids. By 2015, more than 7% tested positive. Of the fatally injured drivers who tested positive, 30% also had elevated blood alcohol concentrations. Nearly 70% also tested positive for other drugs.
More women tested positive for opioids than men, about 4% compared to 3%. However, the prevalence increased from 1995 to 2015 for both groups.
Many drivers are unaware opioids can cause drowsiness, impaired thinking and slow reaction times while driving. Additionally, there is not reliable test for opioid impairment or other drugs, like there is for alcohol.
“The need to assess the effect of increased prescription opioid use on traffic safety is urgent,” warn study authors.
Just days ago, a special commission on the opioid epidemic called on President Trump to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency.
The misuse of opioid painkillers has become a national epidemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Due to overprescribing and drug addiction, opioid overdose deaths have soared in recent years.
Since 2000, the rate of overdose deaths increased 137 percent.