We all know about the opioid epidemic in this country. Overuse of opioids -- even prescribed dosages -- can lead to addiction and overdoses. Perhaps less attention has been paid to the impact of opioids on drivers and the safety of all of us on the road -- even when taken as directed.
According to a study just published in the journal JAMA Network Open, drivers who are taking prescription opioids double their chances of being involved in a fatal crash with another vehicle. That's based on data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Researchers looked at over 18,000 fatal two-vehicle crashes that occurred between 1993 and 2016. The study's author notes that "the ongoing opioid epidemic has spilled over to the nation's roadways, with deadly consequences."
How do opioids impair driving? They often cause drowsiness and dizziness. Over half of the deceased drivers who were found to have opioids in their system after a crash had veered out of their lanes.
While these medications often carry warnings about operating heavy machinery (and driving specifically), many people don't heed those warnings. Too many also continue to consume alcohol while on these medications.
Not surprisingly, as the opioid epidemic has worsened over the past few decades, the percentage of vehicle fatalities linked to opioid use has risen. Prior to the 1990s, they were linked to just 1 percent of deaths. That rate is now at least 7 percent.
It's faster and easier to test for alcohol impairment in an at-fault driver than the presence of opioids. The signs of opioid impairment may not be as obvious, either. However, if you've been injured in a crash caused by a reckless or negligent driver, it may be helpful to a legal claim for compensation if it's determined what medications, if any, the driver had in their system at the time of the crash. An experienced attorney can provide more information and help you seek the compensation you need and deserve.