Growing Number of Drugged Drivers Test Positive for Prescription Drugs

A growing number of drugged drivers are testing positive for prescription drugs, a new study suggests. More drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for prescription medications than for any other drug type.

The study, published in Public Health Reports, also found the share of drugged drivers in fatal motor vehicle crashes who tested positive for marijuana reached 36.9 percent in 2010.

Drivers ages 50 and up account for an increasing share of drugged drivers, and for the highest proportion of prescription drug users, the study found. The findings come from an analysis of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center also found an increasing number of drivers are using more than one drug at once, according to U.S. News & World Report. “In 1993, about one in eight drivers were using multiple drugs concurrently. By 2010, it was closer to one in five. That’s a large increase in drug usage,” study author Fernando Wilson said in a news release.

“These trends are likely to continue into the future given the aging U.S. population, an increasing reliance on prescription medications by medical providers, and increasing initiatives to legalize marijuana,” Wilson said. “However, it is unclear whether current state policies are completely up to the challenge of addressing the growing issue of drugged driving.”

About half of drugged drivers were also under the influence of alcohol, the study found. Approximately 70 percent of drivers who tested positive for cocaine had also been consuming alcohol, and almost 55 percent of drivers who tested positive for marijuana also had alcohol in their systems.

The researchers suggested a range of strategies, including reducing prescription drug use by drivers through counseling by medical professionals, and increasing affordable access to mass transit.

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    June 25, 2014 at 12:44 PM


    Here in America prescription drugs come with volumes of warnings and sheet and sheets detailing side effects. The issue is a lot of people who take them don’t believe they are that adversely affected. No amount of governmental surveillance of innocent people’s medical issues (informing the authorities) will change that. In fact, such surveillance will only drive a number of people to underground sources where appropriate information is not available as well as expose countless people’s private information in a damaging and meaningless “feel good” exercise.

    The article is also interesting in pointing that about half of prescription drugged drivers also had alcohol in their systems. This also shows that governmental drug monitoring is not the issue and not the solution. Provision of information is not the issue and punitive enforcement does not work (witness the number who are apparently taking prescriptions and alcohol and still driving which a good number I’m sure would know is not a good idea). How would “informing the authorities” make a difference in this behavior?

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    June 24, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    One of the ways to lower the numbers of drugged drivers is for doctors who prescribe having to advise the patient fully of the side effects and where necessary inform the authorities when they prescribe opiate or benzodiazepine type drugs. GPs rarely inform people in the UK when their illness involves compulsory advising to the vehicle driving authority (DVLA in the UK). I’ve spoken to numerous diabetics who weren’t aware that they needed to advise the DVLA. I recently took some prescribed medication only to discover that the side effects were possibly blurred vision and tiredness but the doc never warned me. I always read the very small print that comes with the packet but I’m sure many people don’t.
    The increase in the number of US States legalising cannabis is also likely to increase the problem as trials have shown that those using this drug will make considerably more mistakes than non-users (trial of US Airline Flight crews showed 4 times the errors after 28 days) – if you use don’t drive. But how do you combat those who buy their drugs in the Internet?
    Legalisation is not going to improve the number of deaths on our roads; alcohol is legal and yet far too many people drink and drive.

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