Huge spike of drivers killed while under influence of opioids, would declaring national emergency help?
Written by Lucas Kibby, CleanFleet
Drug testing results were examined for 36,729 drivers in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia, in a recent research study at Columbia University, who died within an hour of being in a car crash.
What did they find? A seven-fold increase in the proportion of drivers were killed while under the influence of prescription opioids since 1995 and the prevalence of drivers with prescription opioids detected in their systems at the time of death surged from 1.0% in 1995 to 7.2% in 2015.
In a recent USA Today article, the study’s senior author, Guohua Li, said “the opiate epidemic is primarily defined by deaths from overdoses, but its health impact goes beyond those overdose fatalities.”
The study found that the three most common opioids detected were oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. They found that nearly 70% of those who tested positive for prescription opioids also tested positive for other drugs and 30% had elevated blood alcohol concentrations.
“Prescription opiates are so widely prescribed and used,” said Li. “People may think it’s not a big deal,” but mixing alcohol with opioids can increase sedation. It can also increase the risk of an overdose, as both have a depressant effect on the body.
“This epidemic has been going on and getting worse for so many years,” Li said.
Would declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency help?
The commission on the opioid crisis asked President Trump, in July, to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency.
The report specifically called for mandating training initiatives for health care providers to make sure they are aware of the potential for misuse, increase the availability of naloxone to states, and waive a federal rule saying that Medicaid cannot reimburse residential addiction treatment in institutions with more than 16 beds.
As of Thursday August 10th, the president officially declared the opioid crisis a national emergency.
“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I am saying, officially, right now, it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency,” Trump said. “We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis. It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had.”
So what can we expect? While there has been debate among addiction treatment specialists over what a national emergency declaration would achieve, a handful of states have found the move helpful, according to a recent NPR article.
The health news website STAT reports that six states have used disaster or emergency declarations in order to take more aggressive measures to fight opioids, Arizona is among them.
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed an emergency declaration in June, after the state reported that 790 Arizonans had died from opioid overdoses in 2016, an average of more than two per day.
This allowed for additional resources, funding, and personnel. Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, says the state has been able to train law enforcement on the use of naloxone, which helps reverse overdoses, and develop opioid prescribing guidelines.
Another help for declaring the opioid epidemic a state wide emergency is that Arizona got access to better real-time data about the epidemic, such as the number of overdose deaths by county and the number of doses of naloxone administered outside of hospital settings.
What can be done now?
The biggest issue with fighting the opioid epidemic is that most people never start out intending to use illicit drugs, but just a prescription to treat pain, a medical condition, or after surgery.
While this epidemic continues, we need employers to keep an eye out on their staff across all industries, to notice potential emotional, productivity, or other issues that might be a sign of substance abuse in the workforce.
Employers should update their drug testing policies, especially for safety-sensitive positions, to include various opioids to be tested, require reasonable suspicion training for managers, and provide some sort of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help the employees get over any potential abuse and back to work healthy.