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Drugs are prescription for traffic danger

Alcohol is not the only culprit of impaired driving in this country. In fact, the Governor's Highway Safety Administration reported that drugs were found more frequently than alcohol in drivers who were killed in motor vehicle accidents in 2015. Forty-three percent of drivers who died in car crashes tested positive for drugs. A government survey found that the number of those driving while intoxicated fell by three quarters since 1973, while drug impaired driving has risen.

A recent survey also found that otherwise legal drugs can cause illegal and deadly driving. The West Virginia University School of Public Health found that one in five drivers in a random survey took prescription drugs that impaired their ability to operate a vehicle. More ominously, most of these motorists were driving even though they were warned about the risks.

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This report was the first large-scale research of prescription use on highways. Researchers analyzed data from a 2013-2014 study, the National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use, in which random drivers in 60 locations were questioned about taking prescription drugs within the past 48 hours.

In that survey, almost 20 percent of the 7,405 drivers took drugs that could be dangerous and impair judgment, such as sedatives, narcotics, antidepressants and stimulants within the previous two days. Among drivers who used sedatives or narcotics, 85 percent admitted that they were warned about possible impairment from their physician or medication label. Only 63 percent of drivers taking antidepressants and 58 percent using stimulants were warned.

One expert said that prescription medications provide false comfort because they are considered therapeutic and will not cause risk to anyone. However, this is mistaken because many prescription medications can cause injury and fatalities.

The Director of the WVU research center reminded physicians and pharmacists to have thorough conversations with their patients about the risks that prescription medications may pose. The government should take additional action, such as the use of color codes in drug labeling, to improve safety.

An attorney can file a personal injury or wrongful death action to seek compensation for accidents caused by drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol. Experienced lawyers can help assure that evidence is located and protect rights in a lawsuit.

Source: Reuters, "Many drivers ignore or don't receive warnings about prescription meds," Cheryl Platzman Weinstock, Nov. 3, 2017

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