ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — A 2016 study found that 44 percent of drivers killed in crashes tested positive for drugs, and 16 percent had opioids in their system. Different drugs have different effects on drivers, so it’s difficult to standardize tests and limits.
The headlines are a constant reminder of the opioid epidemic in the United States.
Patrick Bordnick, PhD, MPH, Dean at Tulane University School of Social Work, says, “We’re also seeing some statistics that come out that are somewhat alarming especially with the opioid crisis and some of these other drugs that are on the market and more people are dying from drug overdose than handguns in this country.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids misuse them. But what happens when someone on opioids gets behind the wheel? A study out of Norway tested two common opioids in an on-road driving study. When participants took a single dose, their impairment was mild, and when the opioids were taken at their highest dose, participants had increased sleepiness and poor cognitive task performance. Four participants even had to stop the driving test because they were falling asleep. Doctors and patients should have a conversation about dosage, driving, and alternatives.
“If you have a problem or have had past dependency problems on substances, being able to talk with your doctor about alternative treatments,” continued Dr. Bordnick.
Unlike a breathalyzer to test for alcohol, there is no standard roadside test for drugs. Many states like Nebraska rely on specially-trained law enforcement officers called drug recognition experts. Others are testing a mouth swab called the Dräger drug-test 5000 that can identify THC, cocaine, opiates, and more.
Contributors to this news report include: Haley Hudson, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.
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DRUGS AND DRIVING: IMPAIRED BUT NOT BUSTED?
BACKGROUND: The 2016 National Study on Drug Use and Health reported that an estimated 28.6 million Americans age 12 and over use illicit drugs. That means roughly 1 in 10 people struggle with some level of substance use, including addiction to prescription drugs. When a person takes a prescription drug for a nonmedical reason, it can quickly lead to addiction and the need for drug treatment. In fact, 25 percent of people who misused prescription drugs by age 13 ended up with an addiction at some point in their life. In the United States alone, an estimated 54 million people over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetime. Most abused prescription drugs fall under four categories, based on the number of people who misuse the drug: Painkillers – 3.3 million users; Tranquilizers – 2 million users; Stimulants – 1.7 million users; Sedatives – 0.5 million users. More people report using controlled prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines combined.
FUNCTIONING OPIOID ADDICT?: People of all ages can develop an opioid addiction. At times, the addiction can be deceiving, as life seems to continue as “normal”. In fact, it’s possible to be a highly-functioning addict temporarily. A functioning addict will often successfully hide his or her opioid abuse from friends, family members, and co-workers. By its very nature, addiction is a progressive disease, much like diabetes or heart disease. Without treatment, it always gets worse. This is due to the brain changes that characterize addiction. When you use drugs, the brain’s natural reward system is hijacked, according to Harvard Medical School. Large amounts of dopamine are released, making you want to use drugs repeatedly. A functioning addict may abuse opiates to reduce symptoms of anxiety or depression, to get high, to self-medicate physical or mental pain, or to prevent withdrawal. Even a highly-functioning addict can’t escape the devastating effects of long-term opioid abuse on physical and mental health, including organ failure, blood diseases and serious mental illness. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, willpower and good intentions are rarely enough to end an addiction for the long-term. Professional help is almost always needed.
NEW APPROVED OPIOID TREATMENT: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just announced the approval of a unique medication that is designed to treat opioid use disorders, which may be a significant breakthrough in addiction treatment. The medication, called Sublocade, can help ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Drugs with the same effects are available on the market, but there’s one major difference. A single dose of Sublocade lasts for an entire month. Sublocade is essentially the combination of the opioid addiction medication, buprenorphine, and an innovative drug delivery system called, Atrigel. Under normal circumstances, if you were to give someone a month’s worth of buprenorphine doses all at once, they would overdose. However, the drug is injected with a relatively new method of drug delivery called Atrigel. Atrigel is injected as a liquid into fatty tissue or muscle and, when it comes into contact with the water in your body, it quickly hardens into a solid bubble. The buprenorphine payload is inside the bubble and slowly leaks out over time. Studies have shown that the medication leaves the bubble and enters the body at a steady rate of two to three nanograms per milliliter. This small but constant stream of medication can stop opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings for up to a month. The idea behind this new medication is to eliminate the need for patients to remember to take daily doses, freeing them to focus on psychosocial treatments and positive life pursuits.
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