Driving Under the Influence of Rx Drugs is a Serious Problem in the US
About 25% of Americans reports knowing someone addicted to opioids and recent statistics reveal driving under the influence of these and other drugs has become a serious problem, now causing more fatal car crashes than drunk driving.
Many who go on to develop an addiction to opioids start out by just seeking relief from aches and pains. Back pain is a leading cause of opioid use, but many also get hooked on these potent Rx painkillers after receiving a prescription following a sports injury or a minor surgical procedure such as a tooth extraction.
They did not know the painkiller they were taking would lead them down such a dark and troublesome path.
For years, drug makers misled physicians and patients about the addictive nature of their narcotic painkillers. As it turns out, opioids are highly addictive and have become the # 1 gateway drug to heroin in America.
While the rising death toll from opioid overdoses has received much-needed attention in the last couple of years, and another related problem has surfaced.
Millions of people are driving under the influence of opioids, but law enforcement has few reliable tools to identify drugged driving, or for measuring opioids and other drugs in someone suspected of DUI (driving under the influence).
A report compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, Rx and/or illegal drugs were involved in 43% of fatal car crashes in Y 2015, while 37% involved illegal amounts of alcohol.
The findings highlight an urgent need for law enforcement training in identifying drug-impaired driving.
As reported in the Chicago Tribune said: “The drugged driving report, which summarizes findings from multiple studies, said law enforcement officers often have a hard time recognizing drivers under the influence of drugs, who are more difficult to assess than those driving drunk.
‘Officers need to know more than they do for alcohol how to suspect drug impairment, and know that it can exhibit itself in different ways,’ the lead author and former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official said in an interview. ‘Drug impairment has different signs and symptoms — think of the difference between uppers and downers.’”
Many drivers make the mistake of not taking their drug use into account before getting behind the wheel.
Illegal drugs are not the only drugs capable of impairing one’s judgment. As noted in the report, hundreds of medications can impair your driving ability, including some that are sold over-the-counter.
Opioids are certainly part of that list.
Drugs both Rx and illegal in combination with alcohol is particularly risky.
According to the report, marijuana accounted for 35% of fatally injured drivers found to have drugs in their system; amphetamines accounted for 9%, while more than half were caused by “other drugs.”
In terms of crash risk, European studies have found the following associations, assuming a driver with no drugs or alcohol in their system has a relative crash risk assessment of 1:7
Marijuana is associated with a slightly elevated risk, with a relative risk of 1 to 3.
Opioids, cocaine and benzodiazepines are associated with a medium increased risk, with a relative risk of 2 to 10
Amphetamines and/or multiple drug combinations are associated with a highly-elevated risk, with a relative risk of 5 to 30
Drugs in combination are associated with an extremely elevated risk, with a relative risk of 20 to 200
In late May champion golfer Tiger Woods arrested for drugged driving
According to report, Jupiter, Florida, police found Mr. Woods asleep at the wheel in his car on the side of the road. The driver’s side had minor damage, and both front and rear tires on that side were flat.
When the officer woke him up, Mr. Woods’ speech was slurred, and he said he didn’t know where he was. He was arrested and charged with DUI.
A Breathalyzer test revealed he had no alcohol in his system, however, and he admitted he was taking “several prescriptions.”
In a public apology, Woods blamed his impairment on “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications. I did not realize the mix of medications had affected me so strongly.”
He’s recovering from surgery, so the medications he’s referring to may have been prescribed in relation to that.
We now need to recognize that Rx medications are just as dangerous behind the wheel. A Rx is not a “free pass” to avoid personal responsibility. You still have to make sure you are in fact not impaired before driving.
The same goes for over-the-counter drugs.
Certain allergy medications and cough syrup, for example, can make you drowsy and the side effects may linger well into the next day. A California man was even charged with DUI resulting from excessive caffeine intake earlier this year. The charges raised eyebrow and were dropped, but not without some legal eagling.
If you need a pain reliever, consider an OTC (over the counter) option. Research shows prescription-strength naproxen (Naprosyn, sold OTC in lower dosages as Aleve) provides the same pain relief as more dangerous narcotic painkillers. But, while naproxen may be a better alternative to narcotic painkillers, it comes with a very long list of potential side effects, and the risks increase with frequency of use.
Do not ever make the mistake of driving under the influence of dangerous Rx drugs, it could be fatal.
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