It has been well documented that instances of opioid abuse in the United States are on the rise, and research released last week from Colombia University confirms more fallout from the issue.
Investigating more than two decades of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, researchers analyzed 36,729 drivers who died within one hour of a motor vehicle crash in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia—states that routinely conduct toxicological testing on injury fatalities.
The goal of the study was to determine if increased prescriptions of opioids, up from 76 million in 1991 to nearly 300 million in 2014, was accompanied by increased traffic accidents associated with painkillers.
The results are rather clear-cut. Overall, 24 percent of the fatalities tested positive for non-alcohol drugs, including 3 percent who tested positive for common opioid prescriptions. Prescription opioid prevalence was higher in female over male drivers, at 4.4 percent compared to 3 percent.
However, more important than the stats on from the sample is the comparison between recent years and a decade ago, which was the point of the study. The prevalence of prescription opioids increased from 0.9 percent during 1995–1999 to 5.2 percent during 2010–2015 in male drivers, and from 1.4 percent to 7.3 percent in female drivers. Overall, from 1995 to 2015, the percentage of drivers who died in a car crash who tested positive for opioids increased from 1 to 7 percent.
Guohua Li and Stanford Chihuri of Colombia’s Epidemiology department conducted the study and believe their findings show that “increases in opioid consumption may carry adverse health consequences far beyond overdose morbidity and mortality.”
“Prescription opioids as potent pain medications can cause drowsiness and impair cognitive functions. The 700 percent rise in the prevalence of prescription opioids detected in fatally injured drivers is cause for great concern,” said Li.
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