The last time you had surgery or a dental procedure, a doctor probably prescribed a pain reliever. You may have taken this medication for a week or so after the procedure, and during that time, you may have slept a lot. Perhaps you remember very little of the time you spent in the haze of narcotics.
One of the warnings your doctor or pharmacists may have impressed upon you was that you should not get behind the wheel of a car while taking the pain reliever. The information included with your prescription likely repeated this caution. Nevertheless, researchers have recently discovered that, while the number of people dying on the nation's highways continues to climb, so does the number of people driving while using narcotics.
Alarming increase in narcotic use
In the past two decades, the rate of fatal motor vehicle accidents has increased seven times. A New York doctor and his colleagues gathered data from fatal accidents across the country and discovered some facts that may startle you about the drivers in those accidents:
- The presence of prescription narcotics in the systems of female drivers jumped from 1 percent to 7 percent in the past four years.
- In the same time period, the presence of prescription painkillers in male drivers increased almost 5 percent.
- Of the sample 37,000 drivers involved in fatal accidents, 24 percent tested positive for drugs.
- Three percent of those testing positive had prescription narcotics in their systems.
- Of those taking prescription narcotics, 67 percent had also taken other drugs, and 30 percent had consumed alcohol.
Thinking back to any time when you took prescription painkillers, you probably recall that they made you drowsy. Even when you were awake, you make have felt lethargic and woozy. Can you recall stumbling to the bathroom or to the kitchen, just wishing you could climb back into bed? It may be difficult for you to imagine getting into your car and driving across town in that condition.
The authors of the research study are careful to note that the presence of narcotics in the blood of drivers involved in fatal accidents does not necessarily mean that those drivers were impaired at the time of the crash or that the drugs caused the accident. Nevertheless, over 300 million people in the United States take some form of prescription narcotic, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone or morphine. That's four times the number from just two decades ago. It's hard to believe prescription narcotics wouldn't play some role in accidents leading to injury and death.