The percentage of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for prescription opioids rose sevenfold from 1 percent in 1995 to over 7 percent in 2015, reports Forbes. The findings come from a new study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health published in the American Journal of Public Health. Guohua Li, a Columbia professor and principal investigator of the study, called the 700 percent increase “cause for great concern.” Li added, “The opioid epidemic has been defined primarily by the counts of overdose fatalities. Our study suggests that increases in opioid consumption may carry adverse health consequences far beyond overdose morbidity and mortality.”
Prescriptions for opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone quadrupled from 76 million annually in 1991 to nearly 300 million in 2014. The drugs can cause drowsiness and impair cognitive functions. The researchers examined two decades of federal data, focusing on drivers who died within one hour of a motor vehicle crash in five states that routinely conduct toxicological testing on injury fatalities. Of the 36,729 drivers in the analysis, the study found that 24 percent tested positive for non-alcohol drugs, including 3 percent who tested positive for prescription opioids. Of drivers testing positive for prescription opioids, 30 percent also had elevated blood alcohol concentrations, and 67 percent tested positive for other drugs.