Opioid epidemic fuels increase in drugged driving deaths

Drugged driving deaths, particularly involving prescription drugs, have risen dramatically nationwide.

The opioid epidemic has become a major public health crisis and it is one that is beginning to be felt on the nation's roads and highways. According to CBS News, a recent study by Columbia University researchers found that the number of drivers killed in car accidents who tested positive for drugs has risen dramatically in recent years. Much of the rise in drugged driving is due to prescription drug abuse and drugged driving now poses just as much, if not more, of a danger on the road as drunk driving does.

Drugged driving skyrockets

The Columbia University researchers analyzed drug tests of close to 37,000 drivers, stretching back two decades, who died within an hour of an accident. The results showed that 24 percent of those deceased drivers tested positive for drugs, both legal and illegal, that could cause impaired driving. Of that 24 percent, three percent tested positive for prescription narcotics.

However, it was the rise in prescription narcotics in recent years that was particularly alarming. Between 1995 and 1999, slightly less than one percent of male drivers killed in crashes tested positive for prescription drugs. By 2010 to 2015 that figure had increased to five percent. For female drivers the results were even worse, rising from just over one percent of drivers in 1995 to 1999 to over seven percent in 2010 to 2015.

More dangerous than drunk driving?

The Columbia University study largely aligns with other recent studies that have found a dramatic rise in drugged driving deaths across the United States in recent years. According to CNN, another study by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility found that drugged driving deaths in 2015 exceeded drunk driving deaths. The study found that 43 percent of deceased drivers tested positive for drugs, while 37 percent tested positive for alcohol.

While that study is controversial - not least because the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility is funded by alcohol distillers - it does seem to confirm that drugged driving is becoming a much larger problem. That problem is complicated by the fact that unlike with drunk driving, there is no universally accepted device for measuring when a person is actually impaired by drugs. That's because drugs act quite differently in the human body than alcohol does, making setting a threshold for drug impairment particularly difficult.

Representation for victims

Anybody who has been hurt in an accident, especially if that accident may have been caused by another driver who was impaired by drugs or alcohol, should contact a personal injury attorney right away. An experienced attorney can provide effective representation for accident victims, informing them of what legal avenues are available to them and advising them on what forms of compensation they may be able to pursue.