America’s opioid epidemic is one of massive proportions. Numbers from the National Safety Council make that clear:
- For the first time in history, Americans are more likely to die from accidental opioid overdoses than from fatal auto accidents;
- Opioids cause over 100 deaths each day, and tens of thousands of deaths each year.
Statistics like these send a sobering reminder about how powerful and dangerous opioids are, but they still pale in comparison to those recorded in Florida, where the rate of opioid deaths exceeds the national average. Many of these deaths involve prescription medications, which Florida has earned a reputation of peddling in staggering amounts.
The impact, data shows, is profound and tragic, affecting millions of individuals and families, including those who suffer the greatest losses. Deaths caused by opioid overdoses aren’t the only consequence of a growing crisis, however. According to a new study, the impact of the nation’s opioid epidemic has also taken to the roads.
Opioid Medications & Fatal Auto Accident Risks
According to researchers at Columbia University, opioid medications have a tremendous effect on a person’s ability to drive, and overall traffic safety. Their findings, published in the JAMA Network Open medical journal, note that drivers prescribed opioid medications are twice as likely to be involved in fatal accidents involving two vehicles as motorists who are not prescribed the drugs.
Here’s some additional information about the study:
- Researchers evaluated NHTSA crash data with a focus on auto accidents that resulted in at least 1 death within a month of the collision. This data was based on factors where a driver’s unsafe actions were the cause or primary contributing factor in crashes.
- Data on driving errors were used to measure which motorists were at fault, and toxicology reports enabled researchers to identify when opioids were present. In total, the study reviewed nearly 18,500 pairs of drivers who were killed in two-vehicle crashes over a 24-year-period (1993 - 2016).
- Researchers found that more than half of all deceased motorists (nearly 55%) with positive toxicology results for prescription opioids ultimately crashed due to lane departures.
- More drivers who caused collisions overall had positive toxicology results for prescription opioids, alcohol, or both than drivers who did not cause crashes.
The findings give more tangible, and more alarming, perspective to recent studies that have shown how opioids can impair a driver’s ability to safely operate their vehicle. That’s due to the many common side effects that can make motorists on these medication, or illicit forms of opioids, more likely to cause accidents as a result of:
- Drowsy driving and sedation, including falling asleep at the wheel;
- Dizziness that can cause drivers to struggle with staying in their lane;
- Reduced reaction time, attention, and information processing capability, which can limit response time to collision-critical situations, and brake appropriately.
- Nausea, vomiting, constipation, respiratory depression, and slowed muscle coordination, which can cause sudden disturbances, distractions, and other effects that hinder safe driving.
- Physical symptoms which make drivers less aware of their surroundings prior to changing lanes, making turns, or executing other potentially dangerous driving maneuvers.
These types of symptoms are why most opioid medications carry warnings about driving or using heaving machinery, but warnings alone do little to address the multitude of other issues involved, such as the controversial long-term use of opioids for pain management, over-prescribing, and physical addiction – all of which Big Pharma notoriously understated when they began first marketing these drugs. The addictiveness of opioids is what makes these medications so concerning, and why many people who were once prescribed turn to illicit opioids, such as heroin or fentanyl.
Though the findings are significant, researchers are careful to note the study’s design is limited to showing an association, rather than any proof that opioids cause auto accidents. It also doesn’t differentiate between drivers who take opioid medications on a long-term basis, and who therefore may experience less physical side effects in relation to their driving abilities, and those who are prescribed on a short-term basis, who are more likely to exhibit symptoms that adversely affect their driving, according to medical professionals.
The ultimate takeaway from the study has to do with the larger problem. Opioids clearly kill thousands of people each year, and destroy the lives of many families. New information about its collateral consequences, even if they’re just “associations” with greater risks of fatal auto wrecks, should help prompt more efforts from health care providers about prescribing practices, as well as better education and collaboration between clinicians and patients.
Although there are lawsuits filed by cities and states throughout the country against Big Pharma for its role in the opioid epidemic, those lawsuits don’t provide victims injured in drugged and drunk driving wrecks with any compensation. If you or someone you love has been harmed by an impaired motorist, it’s important to remember you’ll need to seek compensation through the civil justice system (even if there’s a criminal case against the at-fault driver). Having an experienced team by your side, as well as the insight of a former criminal prosecutor and insurance defense attorney, can make all the difference when you do.At Todd Miner Law, our Orlando personal injury lawyers can help you learn more about your rights when you pursue a civil claim, and discuss what we can do to help. Call (407) 269-5877 or contact us for a free case evaluation.