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Prescription drugs cause more fatal crashes than cannabis

Harold Mandel's picture
Car crash

There's been a great deal of concern about the high number of fatal car crashes caused by drivers who are high on alcohol or illicit marijuana. Clearly, the use of alcohol and marijuana alters perceptions in manners which undermines the ability to drive well. However, there has been an even bigger problem of fatal crashes emerging with the use of prescription drugs.

Prescription drug abuse has been on the rise

While illegal drug use has been a persistent problem, prescription drug abuse has been on the rise reported Public Health Reports. This presents the entire society with a very serious problem in view of the fact that there is clinical evidence that drug use lowers driving performance.

Researchers have studied trends in characteristics of drivers who were involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes who tested positive for drugs. In 2010 it was found that drugged drivers who were tested for drug use accounted for 11.4 percent of all drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes. Furthermore, drugged drivers were found to increasingly be likely to be older drivers.

Prescription drugs accounted for the highest fraction of drugs used by drugged drivers

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The percentage of drivers using multiple drugs increased from 32.6 percent in 1993 to 45.8 percent in 2010. It was observed that 52.4 percent of all drugged drivers used alcohol. And almost three-quarters of drivers who tested positive for cocaine also used alcohol. In 2010 prescription drugs at 45.6 percent accounted for the highest fraction of drugs which were used by drugged drivers in fatal crashes.

Over the years the profile of a drugged driver has changed substantially. There has been an increasing share of drugged drivers who test positive for prescription drugs, cannabis, and multiple drugs. The implications from these findings should be considered when developing interventions to address the changing nature of drug use seen among drivers across the U.S.

Overall these research findings show that prescription drug use have overtaken cannabis use in drivers in fatal crashes reports the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The study which has been released in Public Health Reports shows that more drivers than ever before are now testing positive for prescription drugs, cannabis, and multiple drugs, and these drivers are more likely to be older than 50. Study author Fernando Wilson, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, has said that although we’ve seen a decrease over the years in motor vehicle fatalities which involve people under the influence, the nature of those crashes has been changing.

There is an increase in the use of prescription drugs by Americans

Trends associated with age were found in this study. About 60 percent of drugged drivers who just used marijuana were younger than 30 years old while 39 percent of prescription drug abusers were 50 years old or older. This trend has been in line with an overall increase in the use of prescription drugs by people in the United States. It is likely that these trends will continue in the future in view of the aging U.S. population coupled with an increasing reliance on prescription medications by medical providers and increasing initiatives for the legalization of marijuana.

The senseless crippling of people and loss of lives from drugged drivers is always a catastrophic experience for everyone hit with this tragedy. In view of the fact that there are an increasing number of fatal crashes from people using prescribed drugs there must be more aggressive intervention to deal with this problem. Harsher laws and more aggressive enforcement of these laws alone will not necessarily work to significantly curtail this problem. Medical practitioners should be advised to spend more time counseling patients about the dangers which may be associated with driving under the influence of various prescribed drugs.