Ayers, Whitlow & Dressler

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Prescription opioid use driving car accident rates higher

Law enforcement officials in Charlotte and across the state of North Carolina have repeatedly said that like much of the nation, we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and other civil servants say that public safety is far too often put at risk by people high on opioids.

A recent study shows the dramatic increase in danger on our roads: the percentage of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for prescription opioids increased sevenfold over two decades. In 1995, just one percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs such as oxycodone and hydrocodone; by 2015, the percentage had soared to seven.

The study by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health was recently published in the American Journal of Public Health. The lead researcher said opioids are powerful pain medications that can make users drowsy and impair their cognitive functions. "The 700 percent rise in the prevalence of prescription opioids detected in fatally injured drivers is cause for great concern," the professor of epidemiology said.

The national health crisis swirling around opioid use is fueled by a surge in opioid prescriptions, the study says. In 1991, there were 76 million prescriptions for opioids; a figure that had nearly quadrupled by 2014.

Researchers dug into two decades of federal data on automobile crashes from states that routinely conduct toxicological tests on drivers in fatal accidents. The study determined that 1 in 4 of those drivers (24 percent) tested positive for drugs other than alcohol.

Of the drivers who tested positive for prescription opioids, 30 percent also had alcohol in their systems and two-thirds tested positive for other drugs.

Those who are injured by impaired drivers, and those families that lose loved ones to intoxicated drivers, can hold them responsible with the help of an attorney experienced in personal injury and wrongful death litigation.

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