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The Dangers of Illicit and Prescription Drug Use Behind the Wheel of a Car

Virtually every driver in the United States is aware of the public safety hazards that accompany operating a vehicle while under the influence of Alcohol; far fewer understand the danger of driving a motor vehicle when under the influence of psychoactive (mind-altering) drugs.

There have been dozens of campaigns aimed at informing the American public about the dangers of drunk driving; the NHTSA, CDC, MADD, and various other national agencies have put a great deal of time, money and effort into education, and it has done wonders all over the country in terms of helping people recognize the problem. Still, many people don’t fully understand the similar dangers that are associated with drugged driving, especially when those drugs are prescribed by a family physician. With the increasing prevalence of using neuropharmaceutical drugs to ameliorate issues in our day-to-day lives, there is a pressing need to increase public of their effects on our ability to drive safely. (National Institute on Drug Abuse; Stop Drugged Driving)

How Big is the Problem?-According to a recent national survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 10 million individuals over the age of 12 (roughly 4% of American adolescents and adults) admitted that they had driven under the influence of illicit drugs during the course of the previous year. Psychologically and statistically speaking, we know that people are less inclined to tell the truth when surveyed about aspects of their behavior that might prove detrimental to their social or self-perception, so it’s safe to say that this number is an underestimate. Additionally, thousands of people drive while under the influence of prescription drugs every year because they simply don’t recognize this impairment in the same way that they recognize alcohol impairment.

Why Is It So Dangerous?- The relationship between various over-the-counter drugs (prescription and illegal) and one’s capacity to drive is more complex than that of alcohol, and there is no linear relationship between drug metabolites (blood levels of a drug) and impairment (even in cases where there is, it is not well documented and police have very limited ability to test for it), and every case is a little bit different.

What Drugs Most Commonly Contribute to Crashes?-One study conducted by the NHTSA in 2009 found that 18% of all fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter drug. Cannabis (found in marijuana) accounted for roughly 50% of all positive drug tests, followed by Cocaine at 29.3%, and opiates at 14.8%. For the reasons stated above regarding blood content, it is very difficult to produce exact figures for pharmaceutical drugs.

What Can You Do?-Obviously, you should never get behind the wheel of a vehicle after using illegal drugs. For pharmaceuticals and other drugs it is a bit more complicated. Whenever you get prescribed a drug by your doctor, talk with him or her about the side effects that come with using it, and make sure to ask about their effects when taken with other medications you may currently have. The more you know, the better.

Whether it is currently being addressed or not, the potential for drug impairment while driving is very real, and so are the injuries that it can cause. Our lawyers know how to navigate the complex landscape of drugged driving lawsuits. We have reached settlements for hundreds of clients, and if you have been a victim we me be able to help you too.