Drugged driving deaths are surging in Pennsylvania, largely due prescription drug abuse.

The opioid epidemic has hit parts of Pennsylvania hard, and even those who think they are safe from its effects may want to think again. As CBS News reports, there has been a significant spike in recent years in the number of fatal car accidents involving drivers impaired by prescription painkillers. Pennsylvania has seen an especially steep increase in drugged driving in recent years. While police are training more officers to recognize the signs of drivers impaired by drugs, they are struggling to keep ahead of the fast-growing problem.

Drugged driving deaths skyrocket

A study by researchers at Columbia University looked at drug test results of drivers who were killed in a handful of states between 1995 and 2015. The states, which did not include Pennsylvania, were selected because they routinely test deceased drivers for drugs. The study found that while in the late 90s just one percent of deceased male drivers and slightly more than one percent of deceased female drivers tested positive for prescription narcotics, by 2010-2015 that had increased many times over to five percent and seven percent respectively.

While the opioid epidemic is largely seen as being deadly only for those who overdose, such results show that even those who are not directly affected by it can become victims of such widespread abuse. Driving while high on opioids can cause drivers to become drowsy, unconscious, and slow their reaction time. Those risks are made even worse when the drugs are combined with alcohol. The same study found that 30 percent of deceased drivers who tested positive for prescription narcotics also had high levels of alcohol in their systems.

Pennsylvania police react

Pennsylvania, like much of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, has been particularly hard hit by the opioid epidemic, and that is reflected in the overall rate of drugged driving. As PennLive reports, drugged driving accidents in Pennsylvania have surged from 3,019 in 2011 to 4,078 in 2016. Since 2006, on the other hand, drunk driving fatalities have declined by 24 percent.

The situation has gotten so bad that some rescue crews have resorted to immediately administering the anti-overdose drug naloxone to any unconscious driver they find at the scene of an accident.

Police are also stepping up their DUI enforcement, including by training more officers in how to spot the telltale signs of drugged driving. Unlike with drunk driving, there is no widely accepted breath-test to check for how impaired a person is by certain drugs, which makes enforcement that much more difficult.

Personal injury law

Anybody who has been hurt in a car accident should know that help is at hand. After 911, a personal injury attorney should be the first person anybody involved in an accident calls. An experienced attorney can help accident victims understand what legal options they may have, including the possibility of compensation to help mitigate some of the burdensome and unexpected costs associated with an accident.