Link between Opioid Epidemic and Fatal Motor Vehicle Accidents in Texas


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Like all other states, Texas is impacted by the opioid epidemic. This includes the loss of life and extensive property damage that results from car accidents caused by people impaired by opioids. Recent influx of opioid usage and increased traffic fatalities is cause for concern for motorists on Texas roadways.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are narcotics. They are often prescribed as a pain medication. They work by binding receptors in the brain, spinal cord or other portions of the body so that they cut off or reduce the sending of pain messages to the brain.
However, opioids are associated with a high instance of abuse and can result in serious side effects if they are not used properly.

Prevalence of Opioid Prescriptions

In 1991, the three most common opioids, oxycodone, morphine and hydrocodone, made up about 76 million prescriptions. By 2014, this number had risen by 400 percent to approximately 300 million prescriptions.

Side Effects of Opioids

Opioids are known to cause reactions that affect a personís ability to drive safely, which is why they contain a warning label that advises against driving. Opioid usage is connected to impaired reasoning, slower reaction time and drowsiness. Additionally, opioids can cause nausea, vomiting and constipation. When mixed with alcohol or certain drugs like sleep aids or antidepressants, the drug can be particularly dangerous. Individuals who are taking opioids should inform their doctor if they are taking prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs.

Many individuals who take opioids develop a tolerance for them and need a higher dosage of the medication to relieve the pain. Patientsí bodies may become dependent on the drug when they become accustomed to taking the drugs. Some people develop withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug like diarrhea, muscle pain, irritability and anxiety.

Problems with Testing for Opioids

Technology is lagging behind this problem. Law enforcement officers are able to test for impaired driving caused by alcohol in every county in the country. Additionally, many law enforcement officers have tools in place to test for illegal drugs. However, law enforcement largely does not have a dependable way to test for narcotic impairment.

Recent Research

A report from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City concluded that there has been a 700 percent increase in the number of drivers who are killed in automotive accidents because of prescription opioids. The research team reviewed data for over a 20-year time period, carefully analyzing data collected from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrationís Fatality Analysis Reporting System that was from the years 1995 to 2015. They published their findings in the American Journal of Public Health. The researchers found that drivers who tested positive for prescription opioids in 1995 only equaled 1.0 percent. However, in 2015, drivers tested positive for these drugs at 7.2 percent.

Additionally, nearly 70 percent of drivers who tested positive for opioid use also tested positive for other drugs. About 33 percent of the drivers also had elevated blood alcohol levels. Researchers also found a correlation between opioid use and the number of drivers in certain demographics who were killed in automotive accidents. They found that the number of men who died from opioid-related car crashes increased by only one percent between the years 1995 and 1999. However, for a similar time period of between 2010 and 2015, there was a five percent increase. For women, there was a one-percent increase between 1995 and 1999 and a seven-percent increase between 2010 and 2015. The rapid increase has researchers concerned about the possible implications.

Potential Implications

The lead researcher behind the recent study says that the significant increase in opioid usage and related fatalities is an urgent public health concern. Doctors and pharmacists should be vigilant in informing patients about the risks associated with taking these drugs. All patients should be fully warned not to take these drugs while driving.

Contact an Experienced Texas Personal Injury Lawyer for Assistance

If you have been injured because of a driver whom you suspect was impaired by opioid usage, contact a skilled Texas personal injury lawyer for assistance. The sooner you contact a lawyer, the better chance you have of preserving evidence of wrongdoing. A personal injury lawyer can investigate your claim and request records that may establish the extent of the other driverís impairment. Personal injury lawyers work to secure a fair outcome for a personal injury victim who has suffered property damage, medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

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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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