Prescription Drug Abuse Becoming More Common Reason for Accidents


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After years of a steady decline in drunk driving accidents, an increasingly common reason for accidents is due to impaired driving caused by drugs. This includes illegal drugs as well as misusing prescription drugs.

When a person gets behind the wheel under the influence of any type of drug, his or her driving may be impaired. This puts the driver, any passengers and other people on the roadway at risk.

Drugged Driving Statistics

A study in Public Health Reports found that prescription drugs, marijuana and multiple combinations of drugs are found in the blood of drivers involved in fatal automotive accidents. It is more probable for drivers today to test positive for drugs than drivers of 20 years ago. Many of these drivers are middle-aged and older. In 2010, about one in five drivers involved in serious accidents had more than one type of drug in their bloodstream, compared to about one in eight drivers in 1993. During this same lapse in time, the number of drivers with three or more drugs in their system increased from 11.5 to 21.5 percent. About 70 percent of drivers in one study who were found to have tested positive for cocaine were also found to have alcohol in their system. Similarly, about 55 percent of people who tested positive for marijuana also had alcohol in their system.

One study found that 16 percent of drivers in the nighttime during the weekend tested positive for over-the-counter, prescription or illegal drugs. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey conducted in 2009 found that 18 percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one type of drug. Injured victims were more likely to be male and young.
Because many older people take prescription drugs, many older people were more likely to test positive for prescription medications rather than younger people.

Prescription Drugs Involved in Fatal Accidents

There are a number of different types of drugs that were commonly found in the blood of drivers and victims. Prescription drugs were involved three times as often in these accidents than marijuana. Many individuals had taken psychotropic drugs for a sustained period of time before the accident. These are drugs such as antidepressants, Benzodiazepines or sleep aides that can impair driving. Opioid or pain relievers were also commonly found in these accidents. Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin and antidepressants like Prozac are also particularly dangerous if used before driving.

Dangers of Taking Medications and Driving

Many pills make people drowsy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that up to one-third of all fatal automotive accidents involve a drowsy driver. Even over the counter cold medications can impair drivers in this way.
Different drugs have different effects on drivers. For example, some drugs impair a driver’s motor skills, balance or coordination. Other drugs affect a person’s depth perception or special orientation. Some prescription medications may make a person more lethargic, have a delayed reaction time or impede their attention.

Additionally, using multiple drugs at the same time – even when prescription pills – can have a multiplied effect regarding possible forms of impairment when compared to taking just one type of medication.

However, sometimes it is difficult to discern the actual effects that a certain type of medication has on a person. Not all drivers who are involved in accidents are tested for drugs or alcohol. Additionally, many drivers test positive for multiple types of drugs or a combination of drugs or alcohol.

Preventing Drugged Driving

Drugged driving accidents are all preventable. Individuals who are consuming prescription medications or other drugs can take steps to reduce the likelihood of being involved in a drugged accident. Individuals should carefully review their prescription instructions for any warnings regarding driving while under the influence of medication. Friends may serve as designated drivers. Party hosts may wish to remove keys from anyone who is on prescription medication or who may drink or do both. Calling a taxi or arranging a rideshare drop-off or pickup can also help reduce accidents caused by drunk or drugged driving.

Legal Assistance

Individuals who have been injured by an impaired driver may be able to pursue compensation for the injuries that they suffered. These damages may include payment for medical treatment, medication, lost income, property damage, pain and suffering. A personal injury lawyer can discuss the legal theories that may be used for recovery and the strategies that may be employed to help establish that a driver was under the influence of medication at the time of the accident, such as making discovery requests or collecting medical records.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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