Fatal Car Crashes Linked to an Increase in Opioid Use

It's no secret that drinking and driving remains one of the leading causes of fatal car accidents nationwide. But while we all know driving under the influence of alcohol is against the law, many drivers may be unaware of the dangers that prescription opioids pose when behind-the-wheel of a vehicle, such as drowsiness and impaired reaction times.

opioid addiction and car accidents

A recent Columbia University study found that over the course of twenty years, not only did prescriptions for opiate painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine quadruple, but that fatal car accidents involving prescription painkillers rose 700 percent.

With opioid-related accidents steadily on the rise, it's important for car accident victims to remember that unlike alcohol or other drugs, no reliable tests for impairment for opioid use currently exist for law enforcement officials. That's why it's critical for crash victims to contact a car accident attorney who understands how to obtain the right evidence and ask the right questions necessary to build a strong case.

How dangerous are drivers under the influence of prescription medication?

According to the Columbia University study, annual prescriptions for opioids quadrupled over a twenty-five year period, from 76 million in 1991 to nearly 300 million in 2014.

As part of the same study, concurrent research examined two decades of data collected by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System between 1995 and 2015. Researchers found that out of 36,729 drivers involved in fatal car crashes across six states, 24 percent tested positive for non-alcohol drugs, with three percent – or 1,100 - testing positive for prescription opioids.

Furthermore, Columbia University's study revealed that of drivers testing positive for non-alcohol drugs and opiates, nearly 30 percent had an elevated blood alcohol content (BAC) level and 67 percent tested positive for other drugs.

What are the effects of opioid use on drivers?

Not all prescription medication has adverse side effects. But a recent CBS News report detailed some of the most dangerous side effects that powerful narcotics such as oxycodone and hydrocodone can have on drivers.

Similar to drivers under the influence of too much alcohol, opioid usage can lead to similar symptoms such as drowsiness, impaired thinking and slowed reaction times. And when combined with alcohol, these symptoms can be exacerbated, leaving other drivers, passengers and pedestrians alike in grave danger.

However, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, noted that while the findings from the study prove a correlation between fatal car accidents and opiate usage, it can be difficult to discern when a driver is operating under the influence and it's critical for doctors to inform their patients if – and when – a drug can have adverse effects.

While Maine's OUI laws state that police officers are trained to detect the presence of drugs other than alcohol, it's important for car accident victims to contact an experienced attorney if they suspect their accident was caused by a drugged driver. The Law Offices of Joe Bornstein has more than 40 years of experience helping more than 25,000 injured Maine residents get the compensation they deserve. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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