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Drugged driving -- overlooked but dangerous

There are consistent efforts to battle drunk driving accidents in Connecticut and the country. However, the federal government has increased efforts to combat the equally-fatal impact of drug impaired drivers. Use of any mind-altering drug while driving is, like drunk driving, dangerous and illegal.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration conducted a 2009 study finding that 18 percent of motorists that are fatally injured tested positive for drugs. These included illicit substances along with prescription and over-the-counter drugs. This was a 13 percent increase from a 2005 study.

A 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that approximately 9.9 million people over 12-years-old stated that they drove with illicit drugs in their system in the previous year. A 2007 NHTSA survey revealed that more than 16 percent of all drivers on the weekends and nighttime tested positive over-the-counter drugs, preciption and illegal drugs. These figure may be higher because blood tests for drugs are inconsistently performed and many drivers involved in accidents have drugs and alcohol in their systems.

The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, is the substance most commonly found in the blood of an impaired driver, fatally-injured driver and crash victims after alcohol. Real and simulated driving studies show that marijuana can diminish a driver's attention, time and speed, perception and ability to rely on information from past experiences. Impairment increases greatly when alcohol is imbibe with marijuana.

Opiates, amphetamines, benzodiazepines and cocaine are other drugs that are often involved in accidents. A 2003 study of drivers that were seriously injured admitted to a Maryland shock trauma center found the presence of other drugs in over half of the cases. These included benzodiazepines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates and other prescription drugs. At least 25 percent of the cases involved the presence of alcohol with other drugs.

Prescription drugs, such as opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines prescribed for sleep disorders, impair driving for a specific time after being taken. Without medical supervision, prescription drugs increase the likelihood of impaired driving.

Victims of an auto accident caused by an impaired or drunk driver may be entitled to compensation for injuries and other losses. Prompt legal assistance should be sought to help determine liability and protect a victim's rights in court and settlement negotiations.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, "DrugFacts: Drugged Driving," Retrieved Feb. 16, 2015

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