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Opioid-Related Car Accidents

pills spilling out of a pill bottle in front of other bottles | Opioid-Related Car accidentsMany believe the current opioid crisis is the largest public health crisis since the first outbreak of HIV, which occurred nearly forty years ago. In a recent study done by Columbia University, researchers discuss an effect of the opioid crisis which may not be as well-publicized—fatal car accidents caused by drivers who were taking strong opioids. This current study indicates that the annual number of prescriptions for opioids (methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone) quadrupled from 1991 to 2014. While there have been several studies done on whether the legalization of marijuana in some states has increased the incidence of auto accidents in those states, this opioid study covers formerly uncharted territory. In a country where nearly 100 million people took some form of prescription opioid medication (as per statistics from 2015), there have been more opioid-related car accidents ending in fatalities than ever before.

How Much Has Opioid Use Among Drivers in Fatal Auto Accidents Increased?

The researchers studied twenty years’ worth of traffic deaths from six states, all of which routinely test those who die in car accidents (West Virginia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, California, Illinois and Hawaii). In particular, the study looked at those who died within one hour of the fatal collision. The study included an extremely large number of individuals—about 37,000—and of these, a bit more than three percent tested positive for prescription opioid drugs. Although three percent may not sound like a lot, the bigger issue is the significant increase from the late 90’s to the years from 2010-2015. The study found that the number of men who were killed in a car accident and tested positive for opioids increased from one percent to five percent, while the number of women killed in a car accident who tested positive for opioids increased from one percent to 7 percent.

How Opioids Affect Drivers

It is important to note that the study did not delve into the question of whether the accident was actually caused by the use of opioids by the driver, rather only studied whether opioid drugs were present in the deceased drivers. So how do prescription opioids affect one’s ability to drive? Opioids are centrally-acting drugs which provide pain relief—along with a whole host of side effects, many of which could potentially interfere with a person’s ability to drive. Sedation, dizziness and mental fog are all side effects of even a single dose of an opioid drug. Reaction times, muscle coordination, attention span and short-term memory are also affected by opioid use. Since all of these factors are absolutely crucial to driving safely, it seems clear that opioids absolutely affect a person’s ability to drive safely.   

Further Reading: Which Cars are Most Distracting?

No Reliable Test for Opioid Levels

Since no equivalent to blood alcohol level currently exists for other substances, the relationship between the concentration of a drug in a driver and the risk of an accident because of the drug are not well understood. On the flip side, a driver who is in constant pain, could also have an impaired ability to drive, as several studies have demonstrated. Both psychomotor and cognitive performance was found to be affected in those with chronic pain levels as compared to drivers who were not in pain. Unfortunately, both those drivers who suffered chronic pain and took no opioids as well as drivers who did take opioid drugs for their pain rated their driving quality to be “normal.” In other words, while driving skills deteriorated among those in pain and those on opioid drugs, the drivers were unaware of that deterioration. Because there is currently no foolproof manner of field-testing for opioid “intoxication,” it is likely that as long as the opioid crisis continues, there will be more and more fatal auto accidents which could be related to opioid use.

Contact Our Experienced Broomfield Car Accident Lawyers

the Louisville, CO injury lawyers of Hull & Zimmerman, P. C.If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident in Broomfield, Northglenn, Westminster, Thornton, or anywhere in Colorado, it is important to contact our experienced car accident attorneys right away. At Hull & Zimmerman, P.C., our dedicated injury lawyers can hold negligent drivers responsible for the damage they caused. We fight aggressively for all our injured clients – every step of the way. Contact us at (303) 423-1770 or (866) 385-3505.  

Our personal injury lawyers have extensive experience representing injured accident victims in Broomfield, Arvada, Superior, Lafayette, Louisville, Erie, Brighton, Commerce City, Northglenn, Westminster, Thornton, Longmont, and throughout Colorado.



At Hull & Zimmerman, P.C., we are honored to help accident victims in their time of need, and take our responsibility as personal injury lawyers incredibly seriously. We know how important it is for victims to secure the full and fair compensation they need following a serious accident, and that is why we take a hands-on, personalized approach to every case we handle.

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