Prevalence of Drivers Killed Under the Influence of Opioids Has Increased Dramatically In Last 20 Years

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Prevalence of Drivers Killed Under the Influence of Opioids Has Increased Dramatically In Last 20 Years

Recent research from investigators at Columbia University reveals that the proportion of deadly car accidents involving people under the influence of opioids has increased markedly since 1995 – by seven times.

For the study, researchers analyzed drug toxicology reports for nearly 37,000 drivers in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia who passed within an hour of a car crash.

The paper, which was published last month in the American Journal of Public Health, reported that the proportion of drivers with prescription opioid painkillers in their system at the time of death increased from 1% to 7.2% between 1999-2015.

The three opioids most often found were oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. Also, nearly 70% of those who tested positive for painkillers also tested positive for other drugs. About 30% had elevated blood alcohol content. Of course, combining alcohol with opioid increases sedation, and also raise the risk of an overdose, as both are central nervous system depressants.

Indeed, another study published earlier this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined drug use nationwide and found that around 92 million adults in the United States used prescription opioids in 2015.

Also, an estimated 12 million persons misused prescription painkillers in at least one manner, such as using them without a prescription or more often than prescribed. Around two million also had an opioid use disorder.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidelines for opioid prescribing in an attempt to combat the epidemic and recommended that health care providers prescribed non-opioid treatments, such as NSAIDS and physical therapy whenever possible, and to avoid prescribing for chronic pain except during cancer treatment or palliative care.

Another recent report by the CDC found that while the overall number of opioids prescribed in the U.S. fell from 2010-2015, that number was still three times higher than in 1999.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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