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Study links opiate prescriptions, fatal crashes

One study indicates that drivers in Virginia may have another thing to fear on the highways: the influence of prescription opiates. The nationwide opioid epidemic that has led to the widespread use of illegal opiates, as well as a severe public health threat from overdoses, could also be connected to fatal car crashes. Researchers at Columbia University found that drivers who were found to be at fault in fatal two-car collisions were almost twice as likely to have prescription opiates in their system as drivers who were not at fault for the crashes.

The researchers examined 1,321 fatal car accidents pulled from a federally maintained nationwide database. They found substances to be a significant concern, especially when it came to the performance of at-fault drivers. Alcohol was a major factor; 5,258 of the at-fault drivers had alcohol in their systems at the time of the crash. Even the not-at-fault drivers had often consumed some alcohol; 1,815 drivers found not responsible for the crashes tested positive for alcohol. In addition, 918 at-fault drivers had a positive test for prescription opiates, while 549 of the not-at-fault drivers did as well.

Researchers warned that the results indicate that the opiate public health crisis could reach into highway safety, but some pain doctors disputed those conclusions. They said that people taking prescription opiates over a long period of time for chronic pain should not be impaired while driving. On the other hand, people abusing drugs or taking opiates for a short-term problem could be unsafe to drive.

Whether substances were a factor or not, many motor vehicle crashes are caused by dangerous, negligent driving. People who have been hurt in a crash through no fault of their own might benefit from working with a personal injury lawyer to seek compensation for their medical bills, lost wages and other damages.

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