Opioid Use Amongst Indiana Truck Drivers - A Silent Epidemic

We hear it all over the news, we see it in our community, and we know people it has affected; there is a drug epidemic in our country. Drug deaths in America are rising faster than ever. Opioids are a class of highly addictive substances and are commonly prescribed for pain relief. Aside from the addiction, over-prescription, and its ability to be a gateway to other drugs, the opioid epidemic is also silently contributing to our nation’s highway death epidemic. Our Indianapolis truck accident attorney discusses the causes of this silent epidemic.

Indiana Truck Drivers Often Use Substances to Stay Awake

White 18 wheeler truck on highway at sunriseUnfortunately, it isn’t a surprise that the use of alcohol and drugs among truck drivers is common and can be linked to their working conditions. A study of truck drivers and their working conditions found that truck drivers were commonly abusing alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, and cannabis to make it through grueling shifts.

Even though the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets regulations for the number of hours that can be driven consecutively, many drivers still cross that line, driving over the 11-hour standard. Combined with the long hours, truck drivers have a desolate profession, spending most of their hours alone. American Addiction Centers reports that a total of 36 studies between 2000 and 3013 show that 91% of drivers interviewed admitted to using alcohol while on the job, 82.5% used amphetamines, and over 8% used cocaine.

Obviously, the use of these drugs can impair the driver’s ability and can lead to severe accidents, resulting in bodily injury and death. Due to these known problems, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires drug testing after a trucking accident. However, the current drug testing is limited to marijuana, amphetamines, phencyclidine, cocaine, and opiates, excluding common prescription opioids.

The Silent and Unregulated Problem

According to the DOT’s 2014 survey of truck driver health and injury, almost half of the nation’s truck drivers are over the age of 50. Most of these drivers have spent decades behind the wheel of a big rig. That means decades of sitting for hours on end every day. This can lead to joint disease, back pain, poor circulation and arthritis. The study found that there is a high prevalence of obesity and poor health among truck drivers. Opioids are very commonly prescribed to relieve pain from these medical conditions. The combination of prescription opioids and the operation of any motor vehicle—particularly one that weighs up to 10 tons—can be catastrophic and sometimes deadly. The use of opioids can cause slower reaction time, reduced coordination, blurred vision, and drowsiness.

Federal regulations state that truck drivers are prohibited from driving while using opioids unless a doctor permits it. However, this regulation is poorly monitored. Because the current drug test panel does not test for opioid use, drivers are expected to self-report their opioid use. As one would imagine, self-reporting is problematic. Often times drivers fail to disclose opioid use and use of other prescription drugs for fear of failing their medical exam, which would affect their obtaining the required medical certificate to drive. Furthermore, there are physicians who over-prescribe these drugs and fail to understand the patient’s work functions.

DOT Proposed Rule To Solve the Truck Industry Opioid Epidemic

The DOT took the first step toward helping to solve the opioid epidemic in the trucking industry. They proposed to amend its drug-testing regulation to add four opioids to its drug-testing panel. Adding opioids to the panel will definitely increase the percentage of positive drug tests during random testing, but it will eliminate the failures of self-reporting. This new regulation has not yet taken effect.

James R. Keller
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