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Studies show drugged driving can lead to fatal accidents

Alcohol is not the only cause of impaired driving that results in fatal car accidents in North Carolina. Using illegal or even prescription drugs can impair a driver's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, leading to crashes.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported in a 2014 survey that 10 million drivers admitted that they drove under the influence of illegal drugs during the previous year. In a 2009 study, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found that 18 percent of motorists killed in a collision tested positive for at least one drug. Its 2010 research revealed that 11 percent of fatal accidents involved a drugged driver.

Marijuana, after alcohol, is the drug found most often in the bloodstream of drivers involved in a fatal accident. The role of marijuana's active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, is ambiguous. THC is detectable in body fluids for days and sometimes up to weeks after use and it is often ingested with alcohol. Marijuana's impairment increases when it is used in combination with alcohol, cocaine or benzodiazepines.

According to several studies, drivers with THC in their blood were twice as likely to cause a fatal accident or be killed compared to drivers who did not use drugs or alcohol. However, the NHTSA also conducted a major study which found no significant accident risk attributed to marijuana after considering factors such as the age, race and gender of the driver and the presence of alcohol.

Prescription drugs, along with marijuana, are often connected to accidents involving drugged driving. In a 2010 study of fatal accidents, approximately 47 percent of drivers who tested positive for drugs took a prescription drug. This compares to 37 percent of drivers who used marijuana and 10 percent who ingested cocaine.

Pain relievers were the most commonly used prescription drug according to this study. However, it did not distinguish between prescription drugs that were used illicitly or under medical supervision. Prescription drug use also played a significant role in drugged driver crashes involving motorists over 50. Prescriptions drugs may not break down in their system as quickly as younger drivers and these drugs are often taken at the wrong times and dosages.

Families who suffer the loss of a loved one in these accidents may be entitled to compensation. An attorney can assist with the gathering of evidence and with pursuing these rights in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Drugged Driving," Accessed March 26, 2017

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