The number of incidents involving fatal car crashes caused by drugs other than alcohol has risen sharply during the last decade, according to new research from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
The research notes that the number of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for marijuana tripled between the years of 1999 and 2010 — marijuana is currently the most commonly detected drug (other than alcohol) with regard to fatal car crashes.
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To assess these trends researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health examined toxicological testing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System and found that of 23,591 drivers who were killed within one hour of a crash, 39.7% tested positive for alcohol and 24.8% for other drugs. While positive results for alcohol remained stable, the prevalence of non-alcohol drugs rose significantly from 16.6% in 1999 to 28.3% in 2010; for marijuana, rates rose from 4.2% to 12.2%.
This study is based on data from six US states that routinely performed toxicological testing on drivers involved in fatal car crashes — California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. The results showed that alcohol involvement was more prevalent in men (43.6%) than in women (26.1%), but trends were stable for both sexes. In contrast, the substantial increase in the prevalence of marijuana was reported for all age groups and both sexes.
“Although earlier research showed that drug use is associated with impaired driving performance and increased crash risk, trends in narcotic involvement in driver fatalities have been understudied,” stated Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, professor of Epidemiology and Anesthesiology and director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention. “Given the increasing availability of marijuana and the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic, understanding the role of controlled substances in motor vehicle crashes is of significant public health importance.”
In relation to that observation, researcher Joanne Brady, a PhD candidate in epidemiology, notes that research “from 2007 to 2013 shows an increase in drivers testing positive for marijuana in roadside surveys, as well as drivers involved in fatal crashes in California and increased use by patients treated in Colorado healthcare settings.”
“The marked increase in its prevalence as reported in the present study is likely germane to the growing decriminalization of marijuana,” noted Ms Brady. “Although each of these states has laws that prohibit driving under the influence of marijuana, it is still conceivable that its decriminalization may result in increases in crashes involving marijuana.”
The findings were just published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
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