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Study finds opioid use doubles fatal accident risks

Figures from the US Centers for Disease Control reveal that doctors in Illinois and around the country write about 214 million prescriptions for opioids each year. Much has been written about the effect the opioid epidemic is having on society as a whole, but little research has been done to find out what kind of impact the powerful and highly addictive drugs are having on road safety.

Researchers in the 1990s concluded that about 1% of the drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents lost their lives because of opioids, but the results of a study published recently in JAMA Network Open, a medical journal, suggests that this figure has now reached a worrying 7%. A pair of researchers from Columbia University came to this conclusion after studying data on 18,321 two-vehicle accidents that took place between 1993 and 2016. After scrutinizing toxicology tests results, they determined that drivers under the influence of opioids are twice as likely to die behind the wheel.

The results are unlikely to come as a surprise to medical professionals or police officers because opioids affect the body in much the same way as alcohol does. Drivers who take prescription opioids react more slowly and find it more difficult to remain alert. This is why opioid labels usually warn against driving or using heavy machinery after taking the drugs.

Police investigations into fatal car accidents are generally thorough and usually include drug and alcohol testing, but blood is rarely drawn from drivers when injuries are less severe. When their clients may have been injured by an impaired driver, but police reports contain no toxicology evidence, experienced personal injury attorneys may seek to obtain the medical records of alleged negligent motorists by using subpoenas. If the defendants in car accident lawsuits or their physicians refuse to release records of opioid prescriptions, lawyers could seek to compel their compliance by obtaining court orders.

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