Increase in Presence of Opioids in Auto Accidents

According to a recent study performed at Columbia University, the involvement of prescription opioids in fatal car accidents has increased sevenfold in the United States between the years 2005 and 2015.

For the study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers looked at the percentage of individuals killed in car accidents who test positive for opioids. The percentage rose from one percent to seven percent in that ten-year span. The data was obtained from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and involved 36,729 traffic deaths occurring within one hour of a traffic accident in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. These states routinely perform toxicological tests after injury fatalities.

Of the individuals who tested positive for prescription opioids, 30 percent also had elevated blood-alcohol levels.

Guohua Li, principal investigator and professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, indicated that this rise of prescription opioids in fatally injured drivers is a cause for great concern. These types of prescription medications can cause drowsiness behind the wheel, and can impair a driver’s cognitive abilities. It’s just one example of how opioid abuse can carry negative consequences outside of overdose morbidity.

The 700 percent increase reflected in the study is just part of a larger picture of opioid abuse in the United States. For example, in 1991, about 76 million prescriptions were issued for opioids. It was 300 million prescriptions in 2014.

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