Opioids and Driving: A Deadly Combo
The number of drivers killed in crashes involving opioids have risen sevenfold since 1991, according to researchers at Columbia University, while prescriptions for opioid drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicoprofen), and morphine have quadrupled since then, rising from 76 million to almost 300 million in 2014.
Prescription medications—including pain relievers—can cause drowsiness, impair thinking, and slow reaction times, interfering with your driving skills. While several recent studies have shown that use and abuse of opioid drugs contributes to motor vehicle crashes, one problem in addressing this issue is that, unlike with alcohol, there is no reliable test for impairment caused by other drugs.
For their report, the Columbia researchers analyzed about 20 years of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. They focused on drivers who died within an hour of a car crash in states that routinely test for drugs after fatal crashes—California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. Of the nearly 37,000 drivers in the analysis, 24 percent had drugs in their system, 3 percent of which were prescription narcotics. Of the 3 percent, 30 percent also had high levels of alcohol and 67 percent had traces of other drugs.