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Prescription, Illegal Drugs Play Role in Fatal Car Crashes

Painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs found more often than illegal drugs

MONDAY, Dec. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Almost half of fatal car crashes in West Virginia in 2004 and 2005 involved drugs or alcohol, and 25 percent of those killed had drugs -- either illegal or prescription -- in their systems, according to a report in the Dec. 8 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report's release coincides with National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month this December.

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied data from the West Virginia Chief Medical Examiner's office on fatal car crashes in 2004 and 2005.

Of 784 car crash deaths, 658 of the victims were tested for both alcohol and drugs. The investigators found that 25.8 percent of those tested had taken pharmaceutical or illicit drugs; prescription drugs, especially narcotics and anti-anxiety drugs, were more common than illegal drugs.

More men than women had traceable drugs in their systems. Drugs were more often discovered in women than alcohol. Victims aged 35 or older were more often found with traceable drugs than younger people.

"These results suggest that drug use contributes substantially to driver impairment in West Virginia," the authors write. "Measuring the magnitude of this problem nationally will require better surveillance data."

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