US

Number Of Drivers Killed While On Painkillers Skyrockets 700 Percent

A study finds that the opioid scourge is making roadways across the U.S. more dangerous, accounting for a 700 percent increase in traffic deaths.

Researchers from Columbia University in New York City investigated more than two decades of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The study aimed to see if traffic accidents and fatalities climbed in association with prescription painkillers. Doctors wrote nearly 300 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2014, up from only 76 million in 1991, CBS News reported.

The researchers analyzed nearly 37,000 drivers killed in crashes and found that 24 percent had drugs in their system, 3 percent of which were prescription painkillers.

“The significant increase in proportion of drivers who test positive for prescription pain medications is an urgent public health concern,” Stanford Chihuri, lead researcher of the study, told CBS News. “Prescription pain medications use and abuse may play a role in motor vehicle crashes. Additional research is urgently needed to assess its role.”

The percentage of men found with prescription narcotics in their systems after a fatal accident rose to 5 percent between 2010 and 2015, up from less than 1 percent between 1995 and 1999. The change for women was larger, increasing from less than 1 percent to roughly 7 percent over the same period.

“They are finding more opioids in dead drivers than they were 20 years ago,” Jim Hedlund, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, told CBS News. “That goes along with the trend in society of more opioids being prescribed and more opioid deaths. It’s up to doctors and pharmacists to tell their patients that these drugs can impair driving and not to take them when they drive.”

Authorities in states across the country say they are witnessing more accidents linked to drivers using painkillers and heroin due to the worsening epidemic.

A child was forced to take the wheel of a car after his father passed out while suffering a heroin overdose in Brooklyn, ultimately crashing into an ambulance July 20.

Police arrested two parents who nearly caused a traffic wreck July 8 after they shot up heroin behind the wheel while driving their 3-year-old in Cincinnati. The mother admitted to police that she shot up heroin while she was driving and ran a red light, nearly causing a crash. The father, who confessed to purchasing the drugs, also admitted to using heroin while inside the car in the presence of the 3-year-old child.

A couple using heroin behind the wheel of their vehicle forced officials to shut down a major highway in Ohio on July 15 after crashing into a semi-truck. In a video taken by a witness, a responding officer is seen performing chest compressions on an unconscious man, while a woman, also unconscious, leans on the back wheel of the car.

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