Opioid use has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and individuals with opioid addiction and their families aren't the only ones feeling the effects of this public health crisis.
With more employees being swept up in the far-reaching web of opioid abuse, businesses are being forced to consider the liability issues that could follow.
While businesses in any industry could be affected, the commercial trucking industry faces unique challenges. When trucking company employees drive under the influence of opioids, their lives are not the only ones put at risk. Large vehicles such as tractor-trailers, semis, flatbeds, buses, and other commercial transport can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, which is 20-to-30 times the weight of an average passenger vehicle. When these commercial vehicles are involved in accidents, the results can be absolutely devastating.
If the operator was abusing opioids at the time of the accident, he or she—as well as the trucking company—could potentially be liable for significant damages.
Are you considering taking legal action after being seriously injured in an accident caused by a commercial driver who was under the influence of opioids? Here's what you need to know.
Opioid Use in the United States
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the country is experiencing an unprecedented opioid epidemic, with more people using opioids for medical and non-medical uses than ever before. Consider these alarming statistics:
- Every day, approximately 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed in the United States
- Approximately 3,900 people use prescription opioids for non-medical purposes on any given day
- 78 people die from opioid-related overdoses every single day
- In 2014, drug overdoses deaths were the highest of any year on record, and six out of 10 fatal overdose cases involved an opioid drug
- The number of fatal opioid overdoses has quadrupled since 1999
- More than 165,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2016
- Research also shows a rise in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl
Commercial Drivers and Drug Use
Drug use among commercial truck drivers is far more common than most people realize. According to a Reuters news article published in 2013, truckers who drive under the influence of impairing substances are a growing problem in the United States. In the Reuters study, a disturbing 12.5 percent of truckers tested positive for alcohol use on the job, while 20 percent admitted to using marijuana and 3 percent reported using cocaine. A smaller number of commercial drivers even fessed up to methamphetamine use.
The nature of commercial driving jobs—which often includes long shifts, heavy lifting, repetitive motions and extended periods of sitting—make truck drivers prime candidates for opioid use and abuse.
How Opioids Can Affect Truckers' Driving Performance
Opioids can have a sedating effect, slowing reaction times, and making commercial drivers drowsy and inattentive behind the wheel.
In fact, a 2014 study published in Forensic Science International identified medication and drug use while driving as a key risk factor for accidents involving large commercial trucks. The report revealed that truckers using opioid medications were much more likely to make an unsafe driving mistake.
Drug Testing Methods
In response to the rise in opioid-related traffic fatalities, several major trucking companies have petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)—the federal agency that regulates the interstate trucking industry—to implement changes in the methods used to test commercial drivers for drug use.
Currently, the FMCSA uses urinalysis, but because this type of testing is only capable of detecting drug use that occurred in the past two–to–three days, some trucking company representatives claim the tests have limited usefulness. The trucking companies who reached out to the FMCSA state hair follicle testing would be preferable, as it would provide information on the driver's drug habits spanning months and even years. This makes it easier for trucking companies to identify potentially unsafe truckers.
Do You Need a Truck Accident Attorney?
If you were severely injured in a truck accident caused by a drugged commercial driver, it's important to protect your right to collect compensation. Contact McGartland Law Firm today to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case with a legal professional.