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America’s Opioid Crisis Causes Spike in Drug-Related Traffic Deaths

America's Opioid Crisis Hits Pennsylvania Roads

The United States is in the throes of an opioid crisis. In fact, a recent study by the National Safety Council found that Americans are now more likely to die of an overdose of prescription painkillers than they are in a car crash. Unfortunately, opioid users are also causing more fatal car crashes in Pennsylvania and across the country. A 2017 study by Columbia University found that there has been a 700 percent increase in the number of opioid-impaired drivers killed in traffic accidents over the last two decades. 

America's Opioid Crisis Hits the Road

According to the Columbia University study, prescriptions for drugs like morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone ballooned from 76 million in 1991 to almost 300 million in 2014. Predictably, this jump has translated into an increase in fatal accidents caused by opioid-impaired drivers. 

For the study, researchers analyzed the drug tests of drivers who died within one hour of a car crash in six states that routinely perform postmortem drug tests on drivers who are killed in car wrecks. Of almost 37,000 deceased drivers included in the study, 24 percent had some sort of drug in their system and 3 percent tested positive for opioid painkillers. Of that 3 percent, 67 percent also had traces of other drugs in their system and 30 percent had also consumed alcohol. 

According to the study, less than 1 percent of male drivers killed in car crashes between 1995 and 1999 had opioids in their system. However, between 2010 and 2015, that percentage had increased to just over 5 percent. Over the same period of time, the percentage of deceased female drivers who tested positive for opioids increased from just over 1 percent to over 7 percent. 

Effects of Opioids On Drivers

Multiple studies have found that prescription opioids can cause drowsiness, impaired thinking, short-term memory loss, reduced reaction times, blurred vision and more. All of these side effects can impair a driver's ability to pay attention to the road and safely control his or her vehicle, which can endanger pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists and the occupants of other motor vehicles. 

What Types of Injuries Do the Victims of Opioid-Related Car Crashes Suffer?

Opioid-related car crashes can range from minor to severe. For example, drivers who take a small dose of an opioid could have trouble concentrating and lightly bump into the car ahead of them at a stoplight, causing minor damage to the vehicles. However, drivers who have taken high doses of an opioid could become highly impaired and drift into opposing traffic, hitting another vehicle head-on. Highly-impaired drivers could also fall asleep behind the wheel and plow their vehicle into pedestrians or cyclists. 

Victims of serious opioid-related car crashes could suffer severe trauma, including: 

  • Broken bones
  • Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries
  • Damage to internal organs
  • Cuts, abrasions and lacerations
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Neck injuries

All of these injuries are capable of causing long-term medical issues, permanent disabilities or even death. For instance, spinal cord and neck injuries could cause a car accident victim to suffer temporary or permanent paralysis. Meanwhile, traumatic brain injuries could lead to long-term memory problems, speech difficulties, depression or personality changes. Finally, severe liver trauma could cause victims to suffer massive blood loss, putting their lives at extreme risk. 

Pennsylvania residents who have been injured by an opioid-impaired driver may benefit by contacting an Allentown injury attorney for legal advice. 

Legal Remedies for Victims of Opioid-Related Car Accidents

Victims injured in car accidents caused by opioid-impaired drivers may have grounds to take legal action against the responsible party. An Allentown injury attorney at Metzger & Kleiner could review the details of your case and outline the best legal options available. One legal remedy could be to obtain toxicology test results proving that the at-fault driver had opioids in his or her system at the time of the crash. This information could then be used as the basis for a personal injury lawsuit seeking compensation for your losses. If successful, this type of lawsuit could help you obtain a financial settlement that covers your current and future medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, property loss and other crash-related damages. Philadelphia residents can call us at (215) 567-6616, and Lehigh Valley residents can reach us at (610) 435-7400. 

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