Drugged driving: Opioid epidemic being felt on the highway

The number of drivers killed in accidents who test positive for prescription drugs has skyrocketed.

The opioid epidemic has become something that cities and town across the country are struggling to deal with effectively. In a sign of just how bad the epidemic has become, a recent study by Columbia University researchers suggests that the number of drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents who test positive for prescription drugs has spiked dramatically in the past two decades, according to CBS News. The research is yet another sign of just how dangerous and prevalent drugged driving has become on the nation's roads and highways.

Opioid driving deaths spike

The researchers looked at crash data from accidents from the past two decades in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia since those states routinely test deceased drivers for drugs. The study found that 24 percent of all deceased drivers had drugs in their systems which could cause impairment and that three percent of those drugs were for prescription narcotics.

However, it was the rise in the presence of prescription narcotics that was especially alarming. Between 1995 and 1999, under one percent of male drivers who were killed in car accidents tested positive for prescription narcotics. By 2010 to 2015, that figure had increased more than 500 percent to five percent of deceased male drivers. For women, the increase was even more startling, going from just over one percent in 1995 to 1999 to over seven percent in 2010 to 2015.

Drugged vs. drunk driving

The study is just one more reminder of just how deadly drugged driving has become. That fact was underscored by a study released earlier in 2017 by the Governors Highway Safety Association that found drugged driving had surpassed alcohol as a factor in fatal motor vehicle accidents, according to NBC News. That study concluded that in 37 percent of fatal crashes across the United States in 2015 the driver tested positive for alcohol impairment, which was less than the 43 percent of drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for drug impairment.

One problem with getting the drugged driving problem under control is that police have far fewer tools to help them crack down on drugged drivers. While drunk drivers can fairly easily be caught by administering a breathalyzer test, there is no such standard test for drugged driving. That's because different drugs don't all behave in the same way and even the same drug will affect different people differently.

Help after an accident

The risks that drivers must contend with while on the road are numerous. For those who have been hurt in an accident, it is important to reach out to a personal injury attorney for help as soon as possible. Especially if the accident may have bee n caused by another driver's negligence or recklessness (such as by impaired driving), victims may be able to pursue additional compensation to help them recover from their difficult ordeal.