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When it comes to driving ‘under the influence’, the go-to reaction is to immediately conjure up a mental image of some person behind the wheel of a car, beer can in hand, racing through stop lights and signs. But of course we all know that a resulting DUI doesn’t necessarily mean a person was drunk—they could be drugged up as well, instances are just not as commonly publicized. That may be changing, thanks to a revelatory study recently brought to light within the Public Health Reports.

The study, led by study author Fernando Wilson, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, examined fatal car crashes over the course of two decades in the U.S. where one or more of the drivers tested positive for drug abuse. Of the gathered data, the team notably points out that while in 1993 1 in 8 drivers were abusing multiple drugs concurrently, today the numbers are somewhere closer to 1 in 5.

According to an article released through Medical News Today, Wilson adds:

“Beyond that, we’re also seeing more and more people using drugs and alcohol together. About 70 percent of drivers who tested positive for cocaine had also been consuming alcohol, and almost 55 percent of drivers who tested positive for cannabis also had alcohol in their systems.”

The study also recognized a trend between drug abuse and age: perhaps not so surprisingly, 60% of those who were found to have cannabis in their system were younger than 30. On the other end of the spectrum, 39% of prescription drug abusers were found to be aged 50 years and older. If you take into account that 90% of Americans aged 65-plus have prescription expenses—and the number is only going to increase as society relies more and more on over-the-counter pharmacies to treat patients’ wholesale needs—the possibility of a continuing reliance on, and abuse of, prescription drugs among drivers is practically inevitable.

Despite the evidence, Wilson goes on to say, “…it is unclear whether current state policies are completely up to the challenge of addressing the growing issue of drugged driving.”

The team offers several ideas by which the number of drug-related fatal crashes might be lessened, which include curbing prescription drug use of drivers through counseling by a medical professional, and lobbying for easier access to mass transit.

What do you think?