Increased Use of Prescription Drug Use in Drug Related Fatal Crashes

Blue Capsules on a Prescription FormA study published in Public Health Reports has revealed new information regarding drug use and fatal car crashes. The study found that drivers involved in vehicle crashes are more often testing positive for prescription drugs, cannabis, or multiple drugs, and are more often over the age of 50.

The study analyzed common characteristics of U.S. drivers who were involved in fatal vehicle crashes and tested positive for drugs. The data used was from car crashes between 1993 and 2010. The research, which was funded by the Public Health Law Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sought to analyze the relationship between state laws and the frequency of alcohol and drug use when involved with a fatal car crash.

Study author Fernando Wilson, PhD, notes that the study found a significant change in trends in the car crash data.“While we’ve seen a decrease over the years in motor vehicle fatalities involving people under the influence, the nature of those crashes is changing,” said Wilson, who is an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Researchers also found that the percentage of drivers under the influence of 3 or more drugs almost doubled between 1993 to 2010, increasing from 11.5 percent to 21.5 percent. “In 1993, about 1 in 8 drivers were using multiple drugs concurrently. By 2012, it was closer to 1 in 5,” said Wilson.

What’s more, the amount of drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol simultaneously has increased, noted Wilson. “About 70 percent of drivers who tested positive for cocaine had also been consuming alcohol, and almost 55 percent of drivers who tested positive for cannabis also had alcohol in their systems,” he said.

The study also revealed a parallel between certain drug use and age. It was found that nearly 60 percent of marijuana-only users were under the age of 30, while 39 percent of prescription drug users were 50 years of age or older. Experts attribute the increase in prescription drug related car crashes to the overall increased dependency on prescription drugs by seniors in the U.S. Currently, 90 percent of people 65 years old and older have prescription drug expenses.

“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” stated Wilson. “However, it is unclear whether current state policies are completely up to the challenge of addressing the growing issue of drugged driving.”

Study authors recommend that lawmakers institute policies that would increase primary prevention of driving while on drugs, such as having drugged drivers receive counseling from medical professionals, and more easily accessible and affordable mass transportation.

Currently, 18 states have a zero tolerance policy for driving while on drugs. However, some recent studies have shown that these laws may not significantly decrease the rate of fatal crashes. In 2012, 42 states offered prescription drug monitoring programs, which were meant to decrease drug use and drug overdose.


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