Opioid use is becoming a major crisis throughout the United States. Health and Human Services provides some troubling information about the epidemic of opioid abuse. As HHS explains, 2014 saw the highest number of deaths due to drug overdoses as any year since records of overdose deaths were kept. More than 60 percent of the deaths were related to an opioid.
This news is extremely troubling for many obvious reasons. More than 165,000 people have died due to overdosing on prescription opioids since 1999 and the rate of overdose deaths quadrupled over that time. In 2014, the increase in overdose deaths was described as a “sharp increase.” The number of deaths in 2015 and 2016 were likely comparable or worse than 2014 as the epidemic has worsened, but the data is not yet available according to HHS.
Among the many reasons why the opioid crisis is such a terrible problem is that the crisis is also increasing the risk of other types of deaths besides just those caused by overdose. The crisis is increasing the risk of fatalities – or serious injuries – in truck accidents due to commercial drivers using opioids.
The fact that truckers may use opioids in large numbers means everyone on the roads could be affected and is at increased risk of death due to the opioid crisis, even if they do not personally use opioids. Understanding this risk is vital for motorists, who must also understand their legal rights if they are involved in a collision with a trucker who was on drugs at the time of the accident.
Truckers may be among the groups particularly susceptible to becoming caught up in the opioid crisis. The problem is, even before the crisis intensified in 2014 and overdose deaths reached new records, warnings were already being raised among drug use involving truck drivers.
Reuters reported back in 2013 that 12.5 percent of truckers had positive alcohol tests and that many drivers tested positive for stimulants. Furthermore, around 20 percent of drivers admitted to marijuana use and three percent admitted to cocaine use.
The warnings from 2013 focused primarily on the use of amphetamine, alcohol, stimulants, marijuana and cocaine. However, drivers using these types of drugs would naturally be more likely to also abuse opioids as opioids have become a more in-demand narcotic in recent years. Drugs are often used by truckers to make long-distance trips easier, and opioids could also be used as a career-enhancement drug by truckers as well.
In light of concerns about how the opioid epidemic may be impacting truckers, Trucks.com indicates that many carriers are asking the FDA to get approval to use hair drug testing to screen truck drivers. Six major carriers believe hair testing would be a more accurate test than the current urine test that is used to try to keep drug-using drivers off the streets. Hopefully, if there are better and more accurate testing protocols put into place, that will make a difference in reducing crash risks.