As America’s opioid epidemic continues to grow, the detrimental effects have begun to hit the roads, with the number of drug-related car accidents in the U.S. surpassing the number of drunk driving incidents.
From October 2016 to July 2017, Pennsylvania’s National Medical Services Labs (NMS) detected an extreme opioid, carfentanil, in 355 blood samples sent in from 30 different U.S. states and Canada, with a portion of those samples taken from drivers arrested for impaired driving. Lab officials released their findings in December 2017.
Carfentanil—a veterinary tranquilizer for large animals—and its parent drug, fentanyl, are both opioids much more powerful than morphine: Fentanyl can be 50 to 100 times more powerful, while carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful. The fatal drugs induce extreme drowsiness and impair judgement time for the user.
“The thought that individuals with these extremely potent sedative drugs are getting behind the wheel is frightening, and puts not just the drug user, but every other road user at risk,” said NMS Labs’ Chief of Forensic Toxicology, Dr. Barry Logan.
Fatal accidents where drivers used carfentanil may actually be under-reported, Logan added. Labs have difficulties testing for the very small amounts of the drug that can be responsible for deaths, he said.
In the U.S. alone, over 20,000 deaths were attributed to overdoses on fentanyl and its variants in 2016, representing a 540% increase in fentanyl-related deaths since 2013, according to a New York Times report.
And America isn’t the only country struggling to kick a widespread opioid habit. In July 2017, a Canadian driver under the influence of a fentanyl-type drug struck nine vehicles with his minivan in separate hit-and-run incidents in the space of about 15 minutes.
“Policing is policing—it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away from the street, dealing with people is the same. But the drug issues with fentanyl here right now is incredible,” said Wes Burnside, one of the first police responders to the scene.
Thanks to new training programs, the police officers were able to determine the driver had overdosed on opioids and administer the necessary countermeasure drugs, keeping the driver alive.
Law enforcement in the U.S. are also now receiving similar training to aid in their dealings with opioid-related incidents.