Anyone who follows the news on a regular basis is well aware of the fact that millions of people across the nation, including thousands here in Tennessee, are currently battling some form of addiction to drugs — both legal and illegal. By way of illustration, consider that statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2014 alone 1,263 Tennesseans died from prescription opioid overdoses.
As tragic as this reality is, it has recently become even more so, as those abusing drugs are taking actions that directly affect the safety of those around them. Specifically, more drug users are getting behind the wheel while under the influence, causing serious and often fatal accidents.
Just how serious is the problem of drugged driving?
Data from the Tennessee Highway Patrol reveals that the number of deaths attributable to drug impaired drivers increased by an astounding 89 percent from 2010 to 2015.
Even more shocking, statistics also show that drugged driving has recently surpassed both drunk driving and distracted driving as a factor in fatal crashes here in the Volunteer State. Specifically, distracted driving was associated with 51 deaths, drunk driving was associated with 136 deaths and drugged driving was associated with 174 deaths in 2015.
Why has drugged driving become such a problem?
In addition to the staggering rates of prescription opioid abuse, experts also point to the growing popularity of street drugs like heroin, which serves as a cheaper, stronger and more readily available substitute. They also point to the abuse of other prescription drugs like benzodiazepines, and the seemingly unending allure of illegal drugs like marijuana and methamphetamine.
Compounding the problem further, they argue, is the absence of a reliable uniform standard by which law enforcement can measure impairment, much like the .08 blood alcohol content standard for drunk drivers.
What are law enforcement officials doing to address this problem?
Reports indicate that more law enforcement officials here in Tennessee are undergoing a three-week training program that teaches them how to identify drugged drivers, adding to the ranks of the roughly 115 officers who are already certified.
Here’s hoping these efforts prove effective, and that we start to see real change sooner than later on our roads and highways.
Always remember that if you suffered serious injuries or lost a loved one because of the negligence of another driver, you do have options for seeking justice.