Pot, opioids now rival alcohol as risk factor in driver deaths

Pot, opioids now rival alcohol as risk factor in driver deaths

According to a new report in 2016, alcohol was involved in 38 percent of driver deaths, while 44 percent of drivers killed tested positive for drugs - a jump from just 28 percent in 2006.

The study by the Governor's Highway Safety Association stated alcohol was involved in 38 percent of fatal accidents in 2016.

More than half of the drivers had marijuana, opioids or a combination of the two in their system.

"These are big-deal drugs". Drivers who are drug-positive may not necessarily be impaired, ' said report author Dr Jim Hedlund.

"People should not be driving while they're impaired by anything, and these two drugs can impair you".

"We definitely see states liberalizing marijuana laws".

In 2016 alone, an estimated 64,000 people in the U.S. died of opioid overdoses, making it the leading cause of death for those under 50.

States are struggling to get a handle on drugged driving.

For example, there is no nationally-accepted method for testing driver drug impairment; there are an unwieldy number of drugs to test for; and different drugs have different impairing effects in different drivers.

Many police departments are now training officers to better recognize drivers who are high in an effort to prevent more deaths on the road. And there is no definitive data linking drugged driving to crashes.

Each year, more than 37,461 people are killed in vehicle crashes in the US. "For drugs, that relationship is not known". In 2016, 51% of drug-positive fatally-injured drivers were found positive for two or more drugs.

Alcohol is also part of the mix, the report found: About half the dead drivers who tested positive for alcohol also tested positive for drugs.

That is more than double the 16 percent of vehicle crash victims who were impaired by opioids at their time of death that year.

Among drivers killed in vehicle crashes in 2016 who tested positive for drugs, 38 percent had some form of marijuana in their system, 16 percent had opioids and 4 percent used both, the researchers found. More than half of the deceased tested positive for one or both of these drugs. That test is a screening test that will confirm the presence of the drug but not the amount, he said.

Now, the new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) suggests that drugs - of all types and in all combinations - are behind an alarming proportion of vehicle deaths, too. "We don't have as clear a method for every officer to conduct roadside tests". With a standardized test for blood alcohol content, accidents involving intoxicated drivers are easily investigated.

But these standard sobriety tests don't work for drugs, which can only be detected by testing blood, urine or saliva.

The board has approved a field test that will detect THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, from a spit sample, Behrens said. "You could be releasing drivers who are risky and imprisoning people who are not impaired". Police say the driver of the vehicle had marijuana in his system.

And the main culprits were marijuana and opioids.

An online survey in April by the department found that 69 percent of pot users said they had driven under the influence of marijuana at least once in the past year, and 27 percent said they drove high nearly daily.

In light of its report's findings, the GHSA is recommending that more resources be poured into assessment tools, diligent prosecution of those who drive under the influence of any substance, better education and awareness campaigns about the potential dangers of driving after using even decriminalized drugs.

Thus far, there is no standard test for drivers under the influence of marijuana or opioids, making the cause of the accident hard to determine.

Experts told CBS Philly it was hard to determine and test if a driver was under the influence of drugs. And at the police station, some officers trained as drug examiners do a more extensive series of tests to identify the type of drug.

"Busting this myth requires states to expand their impaired driving campaigns to include marijuana and opioids along with alcohol to show drivers that impairment is impairment, regardless of substance".

"Not every driver in a fatal crash is tested".

To determine the amount of THC in a person's system, a blood test is required, he said.

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