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Studies raise questions about opioid impairment and tolerance

Motorists in Georgia and around the country who cause fatal two-car accidents are almost twice as likely to test positive for prescription opioids as the other drivers involved. This was the conclusion reached by researchers after scrutinizing 18,321 crash reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System. However, medical studies suggest that traces of narcotics like oxycodone and hydrocodone in the blood are not necessarily a sign of impairment among chronic pain sufferers who have developed a tolerance for the drugs. The research was published on Feb. 15 in the open access medical journal JAMA Network Open.

The FARS data indicates that deadly two-car accidents are more likely to be caused by drivers under the influence of prescription drugs or alcohol. It also reveals that drivers are most often involved in such crashes after straying out of their lanes. This even goes for those who are not impaired. Worryingly, the rate of accidents caused by drivers with opioid indicators has risen by more than 5 percent to 7.1 percent since 1993.

However, doctors and toxicology experts warn against using blood tests to draw firm conclusions about opioid impairment. Studies of patients who have taken the drugs for prolonged periods have found few signs of cognitive or psychomotor impairment. Doctors say that learning more about how long this tolerance takes to develop will require further research.

Medical research into opioid tolerance could be used by the defendant in a car accident lawsuit to raise questions about impairment and liability. When such arguments seem likely, an experienced personal injury attorney could raise the necessary questions. Ultimately, the lawyer could help a crash victim obtain the compensation they deserve.

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