The opioid epidemic is crippling much of the country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, whether it was a prescription painkiller or an illegal street drug like heroin. The death rate from prescription opioids has more than quadrupled since 1999.
Things are getting worse here at home, too. In Minot, the opioid epidemic is being fueled both by those who have turned to illegal drugs after they became addicted after taking prescription drugs, and by those who are just looking for a high. According to KFYRTV, Minot police report that they have made hundreds of drug arrests this year, and they need more addiction services. The news station reports that “from 2013 to 2014 alone, opioid-induced fatalities in North Dakota increased by 125 percent.”
But overdoses are not the only casualties of the opioid epidemic. Fatal car crashes involving opioid use have skyrocketed in recent years.
A critical increase in the number of drugged drivers
A research study conducted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and published in the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed the percentage of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for prescription opioids and found that the number had increased from one percent in 1995 to seven percent in 2015. This represents a 700 percent increase. In the study, of the drivers who tested positive for prescription opioids, 30 percent also had high blood alcohol concentrations, and 67 percent also tested positive for other drugs.
Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, professor of Epidemiology and principal researcher in the study, told USA Today, “Prescription opiates are so widely prescribed and used. People may think it’s not a big deal and it’s safe to go about routine activities like driving, but we’ve found this is not the case, especially when prescription opiates are used in combination with alcohol or other drugs. [Opiates] could be a real threat to our driving safety, and not just to the drivers themselves, but everyone on the road.”
Determining drug use is more challenging for police
One of the challenges with determining if a driver who causes a crash is impaired by drugs, is that the testing procedures and protocols are not as reliable as those for alcohol testing. Jim Hedlund, from the Governors Highway Safety Association, told CBSNews.com, “it isn’t clear if the protocols used to test drivers who died in car crashes was the same from state to state. From these data [in the Columbia research study], the extent to which narcotic painkillers were the cause of a car crash also isn’t clear. The presence of a drug doesn’t imply impairment” (emphasis ours). Hedlund underscored the importance of doctors and pharmacists informing patients how much opioid drugs can impair them when they drive.
At the Larson Law Firm, P.C., we are ready to protect your right to recover compensation when you have been injured in a car crash. Our honest and aggressive legal team is ready to fight for your rights when your injury was because of someone else’s negligence. To schedule a free consultation with a North Dakota car crash lawyer at out firm, please call 701-638-3060, or fill out our contact form now.