Prescription drugs play an increased role in traffic deaths

May 22, 2014 by Leigh Limerick

As states across the country explore the relaxation of marijuana laws, the changes have sparked widespread debate about the actions' impact on public safety. According to a West Virginia University School of Public Health study recently published by the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention, automobile fatalities linked to drug use have risen sharply over the last decade. However, the role of illegal drugs in these crashes has declined.

"Prescription drug use by drivers in fatal traffic crashes has risen considerably," Toni Rudisill, doctoral student in epidemiology mentored by Motao Zhu, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the WVU School of Public Health and WVU Injury Control Research Center (ICRC), said. "This means there has been a shift in patterns of drug involvement among drivers in recent years."

In their analysis of data spanning the years 1999 through 2010, Dr. Zhu's team noted a 49 percent jump in fatal traffic crashes where the driver was found to have tested positive for some sort of drug use. Though drug use among drivers has been recognized as a growing and traffic safety concern, Zhu said the specific drugs consumed by fatally injured drivers have not been considered as much as they should.

"Use of opioids, particularly oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone, and depressants, such as benzodiazepines, has become a community health crisis," Rudisill said. "Now vehicular crashes involving prescription narcotics and depressants have radically increased as well."

The number of fatally injured drivers with hydrocodone or oxycodone in their blood streams was up more than six fold in 2009-2010, as compared to 1999-2000. Detected use of methadone among quadrupled over the same period.

Driver use of cannabinoids, the psychoactive compounds that produce marijuana's "high," has also increased but could not be classified as entirely illegal for the purposes of this study since a number of states are changing their .

"The problem is likely to worsen," Zhu explained. "Both the public and healthcare providers need to realize that driving under the influence of drugs – including very common prescription medications – may be extremely hazardous."

Zhu and his team of researchers analyzed data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System for the years 1999-2000 and 2009-2010.

Explore further: Marijuana use involved in more fatal accidents in Colorado

Related Stories

Marijuana use involved in more fatal accidents in Colorado

May 15, 2014
The proportion of marijuana-positive drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes in Colorado has increased dramatically since the commercialization of medical marijuana in the middle of 2009, according to a study by University ...

Signs point to sharp rise in drugged driving fatalities

January 30, 2014
The prevalence of non-alcohol drugs detected in fatally injured drivers in the U.S. has been steadily rising and tripled from 1999 to 2010 for drivers who tested positive for marijuana—the most commonly detected non-alcohol ...

Fatalities down sharply as 16-year-olds drive less

February 24, 2014
Getting behind a steering wheel has been the most hotly anticipated rite of passage for most American teenagers (and a cause of insomnia among parents) practically since the invention of the automobile. For decades, 16-year-olds ...

Drivers who test positive for drugs have triple the risk of a fatal car crash

September 25, 2013
Drugged driving has been a safety issue of increasing public concern in the United States and many other countries but its role in motor vehicle crashes had not been adequately examined. In a new study conducted at Columbia ...

Marijuana use may double the risk of accidents for drivers

October 6, 2011
Over 10 million people age 12 or older are estimated to have driven under the influence of illicit drugs in the prior year, according to a 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. While marijuana is the most commonly ...

Drug use tied to fatal car crashes

June 23, 2011
It's well known that drunk driving can have fatal consequences, but a new study suggests that alcohol is not the only drug that’s a danger on the road.

Recommended for you

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.