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Prescription opioid misuse may contribute to fatal two-car crashes

In fatal two-car crashes, drivers held responsible for the accident were almost twice as likely to test positive for opioid use as those who were not, according to a new US study by researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University in New York City.

The most common reason for fatal crashes, regardless of opioid use, was drivers veering from their traffic lane, according to the study’s findings, published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

To look closer at the effect of opioids on fatal car crashes, the research team accessed data in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), collected by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. FARS holds detailed data on every motor vehicle crash on US public roads that results in at least one death. The study team analysed data from 18,321 fatal two-vehicle accidents. They found that the most common error made by drivers causing the crashes was failing to stay in the proper lane, which occurred in 7,535 accidents.

Drivers responsible for fatal accidents were more likely to have tested positive for prescription opioids and alcohol (918 drivers) than those who were not responsible (549 drivers). The researchers found similar results for alcohol use, with 5,248 drivers who were responsible for the fatal accidents testing positive, and 1,815 drivers who were not responsible for the accidents testing positive. As an indicator of the growing problem of drug-driving, 2% of drivers responsible for fatal accidents in 1993 tested positive for prescription opioids, while 7.1% tested positive in 2016.

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