Opioid use increases the likelihood of a fatal car crash, according to a recent study. The results, which have been published in JAMA Network Open, may be of interest to many in California since opioid use is on the rise. Though the opioid prescription rate per 100 people has gone down between 2006 and 2016 from 72.4% to 66.5%, the total number of opioid prescriptions being issued each year is still high at 214 million.

Researchers looked through the fatal car crash records of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, focusing on those crashes where the at-fault driver had opioids in their bloodstream. The data encompassed over 18,300 driver pairs who passed away in two-vehicle collisions between 1993 and 2016. Of all deceased drivers who registered positive for opioids, 54.7% crashed due to swerving out of their lanes.

In general, more drivers who committed an error leading up to a crash registered positive for opioids and/or alcohol than drivers who committed no such errors. This does not necessarily mean that the drivers were actually impaired by the opioids. Researchers acknowledge this limitation and say that the Fatality Analysis Reporting System does not record dosage amounts. Still, opioids are known to make motorists dizzy, less alert and slow to react.

When opioids or other impairing substances are factors in a car wreck, the victim has a chance of recovering damages from the at-fault party’s auto insurance company. Even a victim who is partially at fault may be compensated; however, the amount will be proportionate to that degree of fault. A plaintiff might want to retain a lawyer since auto insurance companies have their own legal teams to fight against claims. The lawyer could strive for a settlement out of court before pursuing litigation.