Fatal car crash risk rises with drivers who take opioids

The number of opioid prescriptions being supplied every year in California and the rest of the U.S. is around 214 million, according to the CDC. Opioids are known to make users sedate and even dizzy, which is why most opioid medications have a warning on their label telling users not to drive or operate heavy machinery when taking them. Unfortunately, more drivers are disregarding this.

Before the start of the opioid epidemic in the 1990s, 1% of driver deaths in the U.S. were attributable to the drug. Now, it’s in the neighborhood of 7%. Researchers at Columbia University have analyzed the link between opioid use and fatal car crashes in a recent study, the results of which were published in JAMA Network Open.

From NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, researchers gathered 18,321 cases of two-vehicle crashes where both drivers were killed. These crashes occurred between 1993 and 2016. After determining which drivers were at fault and which were discovered with opioids in their system, researchers found that 54.7% of drivers who met both conditions could not maintain their lane position.

The study comes with limitations, as the researchers admitted. The Fatality Analysis Reporting System does not record dosage amounts, so one cannot say that drivers who tested positive for opioids were necessarily impaired by them.

In the event of a fatal motor vehicle accident, the family of the decedent may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. It all depends on who was at fault and to what degree. This is where a lawyer and their team of investigators may come in. Toxicologists may show that the defendant was impaired by opioids or other drugs, and expert witnesses might be called in to give testimony. If a settlement cannot be achieved, the lawyer may proceed to litigation.