Fatal Crashes From Opioid Use on the Rise

“The need to assess the effect of increased prescription opioid use on traffic safety is urgent,” according to the conclusion of a recent study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The study examined the prevalence of prescription opioids detected in fatally injured drivers over the past two decades, from 1995 to 2015. It found an increase from 1% to 7.2% over that time.

The study’s co-author, Guohua Li, says the three most commonly detected prescription opioids were hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine.

Truck driving and opioid use is a deadly combination

Li says the study included truck drivers but did not look at them separately due to the small number of fatally injured truck drivers. “From our previous work, we know that commercial truck drivers were less likely to test positive for alcohol and drugs than car drivers because the former are subject to mandatory alcohol and drug testing programs,” he tells FleetOwner.

The Department of Transportation is proposing to amend its drug-testing program regulation to add four opioids — hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, and oxycodone — to its drug testing panel.

Truck drivers are currently allowed to drive when using opioids prescribed by a physician if they are cleared by a DOT certified medical examiner. Li estimates that, if the DOT proposal is implemented, about 3% to 4% of truck drivers would test positive.


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