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PHR Article of the Week: Fatal Crashes from Drivers Testing Positive for Drugs in the U.S., 1993-2010

In the latest issue of Public Health Reports, July/August 2014, University of Nebraska Medical Center and New York Academy of Medicine members Dr. Fernando Wilson, Dr. Jim Stimpson and Dr. Jose Pagan studied fatal crashes from drivers testing positive for drugs in the U.S., 1993-2010.

Illegal drug use is a persistent problem, prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and there is clinical evidence that drug use reduces driving performance. This study describes trends in characteristics of drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes who test positive for drugs.

Drugged drivers who were tested for drug use accounted for 11.4 percent of all drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2010. Drugged drivers are increasingly likely to be older drivers, and the percentage using multiple drugs increased from 32.6 percent in 1993 to 45.8 percent in 2010. About half (52.4 percent) of all drugged drivers used alcohol, but nearly three-quarters of drivers testing positive for cocaine also used alcohol. Prescription drugs accounted for the highest fraction of drugs used by drugged drivers in fatal crashes in 2010 (46.5 percent), with much of the increase in prevalence occurring since the mid-2000s.

The profile of a drugged driver has changed substantially over time. An increasing share of these drivers is now positive for prescription drugs, cannabis, and multiple drugs. These findings have implications for developing interventions to address the changing nature of drug use among drivers in the U.S.

This week’s PHR feature article, Fatal Crashes from Driers Testing Positive for Drugs in the U.S., 1993-2010, will be open access through August 28. For full access to current content, visit the Public Health Reports website to subscribe.