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More people die driving while on drugs than alcohol, new report reveals

Nearly half of all Americans killed in 2016 car accidents had drugs in their systems, a new report reveals.

Just under 40 percent of the fatally-injured had marijuana of some form in their systems and 16 percent had used opioids just before their deaths. 

The Color Toner Experts

As marijuana comes legal in more and more states in the US and the opioid epidemic rages on, research suggests drugs are responsible for more fatal car wrecks than alcohol. 

Almost half of deceased car accident victims had one or more drugs in their bloodstreams in 2016. 

On the other hand, the number who tested positive for alcohol has fallen since 2006, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report released Thursday. 

Nearly half of all Americans killed in car accidents in 2016 had drugs in their systems, while drunk driving deaths fell from 41 percent in 2006 to 38 percent in 2016, a new report revealed

Each year, more than 37,461 people are killed in car crashes in the US.  

But alcohol and drugs – particularly opioid overdoses – have far surpassed cars as top killers of young Americans.

In 2016 alone, an estimated 64,000 people in the US died of opioid overdoses, making it the leading cause of death for those under 50. 

Now, the new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) suggests that drugs – of all types and in all combinations – are behind an alarming proportion of car deaths, too. 

Drugs were found in the blood systems of 28 percent of the Americans that lost their lives in car wrecks in 2016, marking a 28 percent over the past decade. 

And the main culprits were marijuana and opioids. More than half of the deceased tested positive for one or both of these drugs.  

Opioids, like alcohol are a depressant, slowing down the brain and broader nervous system, resulting in slow information processing and reactions and even putting some to sleep at the wheel. 

The dangers of driving involved while under the influence of either are obvious and well-documented and restrictions against doing so are strictly enforced. 

But the effects, dangers and therefore regulation of marijuana is more complicated. 

Marijuana affects everyone differently, and therefore can act as a depressant, stimulant or hallucinogen, depending upon who is using it and what form they have ingested, according to the University of Maryland. 

Research on its potential dangers to health is still nascent, but only one case of a marijuana ‘overdose’ death has been reported, and it involved an infant. 

The short supply of evidence against it has undoubtedly helped to persuade 29 states in the US to legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use. 

However, only 18 states have enacted laws prohibiting or restricting driving while under the influence of marijuana. 

Yet 38 percent of drivers who died in accidents in 2016 tested positive for marijuana in some form. 

That is more than double the 16 percent of car crash victims who were impaired by opioids at their time of death that year. 

While the US remains the fourth worst high income country for drunk driving, things have gotten somewhat better. 

In 2006, 41 percent of fatally-injured drivers had alcohol in their systems. in 2016, the same proportion of people killed that way – 38 – had been drinking as had been using marijuana. 

Even when alcohol was involved in these fatal crashes, drugs were often present too, with about half of those who had been drinking testing positive for drugs. too.  

‘Drugs can impair, and drug-impaired drivers can crash. But it’s impossible to understand the full scope of the drugged driving problem because many drivers who are arrested or involved in crashes, even those who are killed, are not tested for drugs. Drivers who are drug-positive may not necessarily be impaired,’ said report author Dr Jim Hedlund. 

One of the reasons driving while ‘high’ or under the influence of marijuana is not more tightly controlled is that neither scientists or authorities have worked out a fast, reliable way to test just how high people are in the field. 

In light of its report’s findings, the GHSA is recommending that more resources be poured into assessment tools, diligent prosecution of those who drive under the influence of any substance, better education and awareness campaigns about the potential dangers of driving after using even decriminalized drugs. 

‘Too many people operate under the false belief that marijuana or opioids don’t impair their ability to drive, or even that these drugs make them safer drivers,’ said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. 

‘Busting this myth requires states to expand their impaired driving campaigns to include marijuana and opioids along with alcohol to show drivers that impairment is impairment, regardless of substance.’


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