In the Nationwide Opioid Crisis, More Drivers Are Dying Than Ever Before

The opioid crisis in the United States is making headlines, and once again the news is grim — the number of drivers who have been killed while driving under the influence of opioids is the highest it’s ever been.

Researchers at Columbia University looked at the drug test results of more than 36,000 drivers in Rhode Island, California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. They looked specifically at drivers who died within one hour of being in a car crash and found that the number of fatalities has risen a staggering seven times between 1995 and 2015.

In the two years since, the heroin epidemic has only gotten worse.

Not only are more people dying, they are dying with more drugs in their system. According to Columbia University’s data, the prescription opioids in the victim’s system at the time of death went from an average of 1% in 1995 to 7.2% in 2015. The most common opioids found were oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. Plus, a whopping 70% of those who tested positive for prescription opioids also tested positive for additional drugs in their system. Additionally, almost one-third also tested positively for alcohol in their system, according to USA Today.

These numbers just go to show that more drivers are being reckless out on the roads. A few years ago, the country was just learning about the opioid crisis. In 2012, 10.3 million people reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs the year before. Now, public health officials believe this number is rising because opioids are incredibly easy to obtain, whether from a doctor or a drug dealer.

Lead researchers on the study, Stanford Chihuri and Dr. Guohua Li believe that their findings show that the opioid crisis doesn’t just harm individuals. They believe that since so many people are choosing to drive intoxicated, many people are going to be put in harm’s way. And that, they say, is why Americans need to take the opioid crisis more seriously.

“The opioid epidemic has been defined primarily by the counts of overdose fatalities,” Li explained in a statement. “Our study suggests that increases in opioid consumption may carry adverse health consequences far beyond overdose morbidity and mortality.”

Too often, heroin addiction starts at home or in a doctor’s office. In fact, four in five new heroin users started out their drug use by using prescription painkillers. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine took a closer look at drug use across the country, and what they found backs up this claim.

The study found that 92 million American adults used prescription opioids in 2015. For perspective, that number is more than the populations of Florida, California, New Jersey, and New York combined. Of that 92 million, 12 million reported misusing prescription opioids, and about 2 million had opioid use disorder, which is classified by issues cutting down or controlling use.

With these numbers in mind, many are calling on the Trump Administration to step up its efforts to address the crisis. According to a report released in late July, a White House Commission has called on President Trump to declare a nationwide emergency on the opioid epidemic. The Commission explained that a formal state of emergency would allow Trump’s cabinet to take more decisive action and force Congress to provide funding for solutions.

In their public statement to the President, the Commission explains:

It would also awaken every American to this simple fact: If this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will. You, Mr. President, are the only person who can bring this type of intensity to the emergency and we believe you have the will to do so and to do so immediately.