As more and more details emerge from the long-running high-profile coverage of prescription medication abuse scandals allegedly responsible for the deaths of Michael Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith, our Modesto car accident lawyers know that illicit and prescription drug abuse is a frequent contributor to serious and fatal car accidents.
Now, a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that post-mortem testing of fatally injured drivers reflects a spike in drug use by drivers involved in fatal car accidents. With that said, the NHTSA notes that drug involvement does not mean the driver was impaired or that drug use caused the crash. It does, however, validate the notion that prescription and over-the-counter medication use and abuse has emerged as a national issue when it comes to driver safety.
Based on the NHTSA's Fatal Accident Reporting System census, in 2009 one in three car accident fatalities involved drivers who tested positive for drugs in a post-mortem screening. This represents a five percent increase over the last five years despite overall falling numbers of drivers killed in car accidents nationwide.
"Drugged driving is a much bigger public health threat than most Americans realize and unfortunately, it may be getting worse," said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy.
In 2009, the NHTSA reports that California screened 1,678 fatally injured drivers for the presence of an array of drugs (prescription and over-the-counter meds included). Of those, 388, or 23 percent tested positive.
The Chicago Sun Times reports that prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the U.S. That deaths from unintentional drug overdoses have increased five-fold over last two decades - killing more people than any other accidental injury save car accidents.
In 2007, prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin and fentanyl were responsible for more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
The surge in prescription drug abuse was first documented in the 1990s and is linked to a change in how medical professionals address chronic pain management. Namely, docs are now writing more prescriptions for opioids, or synthetic opium, commonly administered to alleviate pain. More prescriptions led to more abuse.
A 2010 Centers for Disease Control survey of high school students found that one in five admits to having taken a prescription drug without a prescription. Drugs of choice include Ritalin, OxyContin and Xanax. White students lead the pack for abuse with 23 percent admitting to taking someone else's prescription medication; Hispanics follow at 17 percent, and African-Americans at 12 percent.
Female students were as likely as their male counterparts to abuse prescription medication. More than a quarter of seniors admitted to experimenting with prescription meds, as did 15 percent of freshmen.
Dispose My Meds estimates that nearly 4 billion prescriptions are filled in the U.S. each year and nearly a third of those drugs - roughly 200 million pounds of medication - go unconsumed. Since unfinished meds are a prime source for cribbing (and flushing them down the toilet has been linked to environmental damage), the site recommends taking the following steps to ensure proper disposal of any unused medication:
~ Take remaining meds from their prescription bottle.
~ Mix with an "undesirable" substance - used cat litter, coffee grounds, uneaten foods.
~ Seal mixture in a nondescript container and throw away.
Our personal injury attorneys in Modesto and Stockton are here to help. Call the Law Offices of Robert J. Anaya at 209.522.7500 or email us to set up a free consultation to discuss your rights.