The Impact of the Opioid Epidemic on Tennessee Road Safety

August 23rd, 2018 by Attorney John Colvin

The Impact of the Opioid Epidemic on Tennessee Road Safety

Although many people immediately think of alcohol impairment when they read reports of people driving under the influence (DUI), they’re overlooking an important mind-altering substance: opioids.

An in-depth recent report from Tennessee’s ABC6 revealed just how far-reaching and shocking the problem is. Out of all the accidents that took place in 2017 along the state’s highways, 431 at-fault drivers had drugs in their systems. And those drugs regularly included opioids.

Research from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) indicates a significant rise in opioid and other drug use among drivers on the nation’s roadways. In 2016, nearly half of all drivers who died from an accident tested positive for some form of drug. (To give historic perspective, in 2006, a little more of a quarter of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs.)

In other words, the problem is increasing rapidly as more individuals become introduced to opioids.

Understanding opioids and their impact on driving

Ironically, drivers who would never use an opioid like heroin sometimes feel completely comfortable operating a vehicle while taking pharmaceuticals like oxycodone, fentanyl, and codeine. What they might not realize is that although prescription medicines are synthetically created, they can be just as dangerous as their street drug counterparts.

The goal of an opioid is to reduce or eliminate constant, chronic, or intense pain by blocking the signals sent by the brain’s nerve cells. Instead of discomfort, people who take opioids feel a sense of relaxation, buoyed by a rush of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. At the same time, they may experience slower reaction times and other physical and cognitive issues and side effects, making them unsafe drivers of cars, trucks, machinery, etc.

Patients and people who “experiment” with opioids are at high risk of becoming addicted. Statistics from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH) claim up to 12 percent of those who try opioids are likely to become addicted. Plus, opioid users seeking a high may be more inclined to dabble in other types of alcohol and drugs. For instance, the GHSA points out that among drivers who tested positive for opioids after dying in a vehicle crash, a majority also had marijuana in their systems.

To be sure, trustworthy physicians routinely tell their patients to avoid or limit driving when taking opioids; however, non-compliance is far too common among patients. As soon as people on opioids get into the driver’s seat, they become a risk to themselves and others, including innocent victims like Afton Hoskins.

Hoskins, a Tennessee native, was a young woman killed by a driver who had both alcohol and drugs in his system. Not only was her life cut short, but her loved ones were overwhelmed with sadness and shock. The incident took place 16 years ago, but Hoskins’ mother continues her mission to stop future families from suffering the grief she has endured by sharing her experiences.

Putting the brakes on a national crisis

Certainly, states across the nation–Tennessee included–are rising up to the challenge to put a stop to opioid abuse, as well as opioid use when operating a vehicle. Until the day when our roads are truly safe from distracted drivers and those under the influence, we share a responsibility to make smarter choices before getting behind the wheel. After all, everyone deserves to return home at night.

Were you or a loved one involved in a crash in Tennessee that occurred because of another driver’s negligence? Whether the driver tested positive for opioids or another substance, contact the law office of John R. Colvin to arrange for a free consultation.

Licensed to Practice in Tennessee & Alabama