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Driving while drug-impaired is growing problem, but tackling it is tough

Thirty-eight percent with positive drug tests had some form of marijuana in their system; 16 percent had used opioids, and 4 percent had used both. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON —  The dangers of drunken driving are well known, but a new report details the less discussed but growing problem of drugged driving and the trouble with cracking down on it.

The report specifically looked at drivers nationwide who were killed in crashes in 2016 and tested afterward for drugs. It found 44 percent of those drivers tested positive for drugs, a 28 percent increase compared to a decade earlier.

Marijuana and opioids were the drugs detected most often.

Thirty-eight percent with positive drug tests had some form of marijuana in their system; 16 percent had used opioids, and 4 percent had used both.

In all, 51 percent of drivers who tested positive had two or more drugs of some kind in their system.

And when you look at drivers killed in 2016 crashes who tested positive for alcohol, 49 percent also tested positive for drugs.

The report comes from the Governors Highway Safety Association and was funded by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, also known as Responsibility.org. In the last three years, the groups have teamed up to train nearly a thousand law enforcement officers in how to better recognize and prevent drug-impaired driving.

The report recommends that anti-drunken driving campaigns be expanded to address drugged driving. But, it also details why it’s difficult to determine just how big the problem is and also how hard it is to crack down on it:

  • Not every driver who dies in a crash is tested for drugs.
  • There is no nationwide testing standard for determining if someone is driving while drug-impaired.
  • There are all sorts of different kinds of drugs to potentially test drivers for.

Drugs affect different people in different ways, and someone who tests positive for a drug is not necessarily impaired.


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