Patients who are prescribed opioids and the clinicians who prescribe them have more to be concerned about than steadily rising rates of opioid overdoses, according to a new study.
The research, published Friday in the journal JAMA Network Open, shows that drivers who are on prescribed opioids are twice as likely to be in deadly two-vehicle accidents than those not using the drugs. As the United States struggles with an opioid epidemic, these findings could affect health care providers’ decision-making processes, the authors say.
Statistics from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that although the rate of opioids prescribed per 100 people decreased from 72.4% to 66.5% from 2006 to 2016, 214 million opioid prescriptions are written each year.
Study author Dr. Guohua Li, a professor of epidemiology and anesthesiology and the founding director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University, said he and co-author Stanford Chihuri, a staff associate in Columbia’s Department of Anesthesiology, were motivated to take on this research because “the ongoing opioid epidemic has spilled over to the nation’s roadways, with deadly consequences.”
For the study, the researchers used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which contains records from throughout the United States on motor vehicle crashes with at least one death within 30 days of the accident. This data is based on “driver-related factors,” the unsafe actions of drivers that lead to crashes. A driver with at least one driving error resulting in that fatal crash becomes known as the crash initiator.