November 30th, 2010
08:00 AM ET

Drugs common in fatal car crashes

A first-ever drug analysis of drivers killed in car crashes found one in three tested positive for drugs in 2009, the Office of National Drug Control Policy reported Tuesday.

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the National Drug Control Policy, said the percentage was alarming and should serve as a wakeup call.

“We have not paid very much attention to the drugged driving issue,”  Kerlikowske, President Obama’s so-called drug czar, told CNN. “It is a significant problem.”

Kerlikowske said he wanted to raise awareness not only of the dangers of driving under the influence of illegal drugs, but of getting behind the wheel while taking powerful prescription or over-the-counter medications.

As part of a Fatal Accident Reporting System, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration tests drivers killed in crashes for narcotics, stimulants, depressants, marijuana, hallucinogens, PCP, anabolic steroids and inhalants. These include illegal drugs, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines.

The presence of all types of drugs in fatal crashes has increased 5 percent in the past five years, according to 2005-2009 data, compiled and analyzed for the first time by NHTSA. Of the 12,055 drivers tested in 2009, 3,952 tested positive for drugs.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy did not provide a breakdown of the drugs found in drivers who died in accidents, but Kerlikowske said he suspected illegal drugs and frequently abused prescription painkillers were behind the increase.

The 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 10.5 million people aged 12 or older reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the past year. That's about 4 percent of the population in that age range.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy figures released Tuesday do not suggest drug use was responsible for the fatal accident, nor do they implicate the driver who died. The report also doesn’t determine whether the increase might be the result of Americans taking more medications, generally.

In 2008, 48 percent of Americans said they had taken a prescription drug in the previous month, up from 44 percent a decade earlier. The use of five or more drugs in the preceding month increased from 6 percent to 11 percent during the same period, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

David W. Kaufman, associate director at the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, said the results were not inconsistent with surveys he and his colleagues have conducted.

“There’s no question that people are taking a lot of drugs, and some of these drugs might affect their ability to operate motor vehicles," he said. "I think it’s fair to say there’s more to worry about than people drinking too much.”

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soundoff (911 Responses)
  1. rr

    12 year olds can drive? wow... sound like a solid study

    November 30, 2010 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. King Soloman

    Just trying to scare the movement to legalize weed. Simple scare tactic. LEt me ask you what was the average age of drivers that were under the influence while causing an accident. Im willing to bet more the 1/2 were over the age of 30 which means this are perscription drugs and over counter meds and not true illegal drugs.

    November 30, 2010 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Abstract Method

    David Martin, please get your facts straight. And in what states are 12 year olds allowed to drive? And driving under the influence of prescription drugs?? I never knew Claritin was dangerous while behind the wheel. Ridiculous study.

    November 30, 2010 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RoadRagerstakeProzac

    Yes, Marin County Police did a study some years back and discovered that their road ragers were on prozak. Now with that in mind, take a closer look at your dysfunctional work place, your Executive Leadership and Board Members, and the downfall of American companies....yes you guessed....white collar druggies!!!

    November 30, 2010 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. dan

    they never mention that the people were under the influence of the drug at the time of the accident. you can smoke all you want 5 days before, but that will have no effect on you the day of the accident...

    November 30, 2010 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Logic

    If they took a sample of drivers/passengers NOT involved in fatal accidents, they would probably find the same 1/3 have some drug in their system. There is no way to conclude drugged out drivers are becoming a worse menace than drunk drivers.

    Flawed conclusions based on speculative statistics.

    November 30, 2010 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ray

    The 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 10.5 million people aged 12 or older reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the past year. That's about 4 percent of the population in that age range.

    Where are 12 year olds driving?.

    November 30, 2010 at 12:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Mac11

    The 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 10.5 million people aged 12 or older reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the past year. ???? What state has 12 year old drivers?

    November 30, 2010 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. what the hell?

    I think the person or persons responsible for this article should be tested for drugs. I wonder how many irresposible articles are published by people under the influence of, say Nyquil.....if 1 in 3, that would make the other 2/3 sober & with full capacity to know they're peddling crap. Either way it's a sad representation of journalism.......& Steve, not all people with degrees are 'experts' & not all 'experts' have degrees. The only thing more obvious than your myopic perspective, is the anger that spew it with.

    November 30, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Sam

    Um... why are twelve-year olds driving?

    Did anybody else catch that?

    November 30, 2010 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Pain

    people are completely drawing the wrong conclusions from this information. these stats are in no way an implication that drunk driving is acceptable, rather that 1/3 of people who have recently ingested drugs that can affect cognitive function die, regardless of who caused the accident.

    As an alternate argument, assuming 9% of the population has a "substance abuse or dependency problem" over the past year, according to 2006 SAMSHA stats. thats a lot less than the 30% found in these fatal crashes.

    And prescription opioid medications are a major problem that people do not recognize. The number of visits to ED for prescription drug abuse just recently started outnumbering those visits for illicit drug use.

    November 30, 2010 at 12:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Damon

    Testing postive does not equal intoxicated at the time of the accident. This article is a waste of time.

    November 30, 2010 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. canadian99

    Smoking up and driving is no different than drinking and driving or possibly swallowing and driving

    November 30, 2010 at 12:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Kati

    I'm willing to bet talking on cell phones, texting, and driving while drowsy are FAR more dangerous than smoking pot and driving.

    November 30, 2010 at 13:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Marion

    The Office of National Drug Control Policy did not provide a breakdown of the drugs found in drivers who died in accidents, but Kerlikowske said he suspected illegal drugs and frequently abused prescription painkillers were behind the increase.

    Damon wrote: Testing postive does not equal intoxicated at the time of the accident. This article is a waste of time.

    Which is about what I was going to say. The study was a waste of time. When an accident happens, and the hospital tests for "drug use", it has no idea how long those drugs were in the person's system, but they blame the accident on it anyway. For example, Marijuana can stay in system up to 3 months even if you did not use it when you were driving that vehicle. This is just another BS "study" and I am glad there are many posters who see that. However, when you have hysteria in this country about drug use, this is what results in "studies" to prove these silly things.

    November 30, 2010 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Pain

    dont be shortsighted about "testing positive does not equal intoxicated".

    If truly only 9% of the population have a substance abuse problem, and 30% fatalities have positive blood tests for "drugs"... then either there are a LOT more people out there who use these substance – which says alot (bad) about our society, or there is an increased likelihood that any use of drugs increases one's risk of dying from a motor vehicle collision.

    and this is irregardless of whether they are intoxicated or not.

    ie. people need to stop using drugs, or at the very minimum, they need to stop using drugs if they plan on travelling in a vehicle...

    November 30, 2010 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. David

    I think this is a personal attack on all the marijuana users, right after the voters shut proposition 9 down. ALOT of people are SCARED of illegal drugs, as if they differ from over the counter or prescription drugs a great deal. Most people think you hallucinate or have some other near death experience with most illegal drugs, including marijuana. I know that is not true, and I feel ALOT of drugs should be legal....just behind the counter under lock and key...the way most drugs are done today. Wouldn't that mean that they are in better hands? Do illegal drug dealers do a better job than the pharmacist could? Is it really safer, more sterile, etc? We could make the biggest debt in US history disappear...overnight. Put ALL the illegal drugs in pharmacys...only to be distributed with a doctors note. TAX ALL of it...like there was no tomorrow. Hasn't it worked for other hard drugs, such as vicoden or other heavy pain killers? Don't be immature about it and make a parade of humiliation for those few illegal drug users. 12,000 some accidents? How many are cause by drunken drivers? double? triple? ....hmmm

    November 30, 2010 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Zulu Deaux

      I don't understand it either. A fifth of Jack Daniels is far more toxic than a joint - you can die from drinking the Jack Daniels, while the joint would, at worst, make you fall asleep on the couch. Alcohol tends to make people violent, while marijuana tends to make people passive. And on and on.
      Prohibition doesn't work; it never has. It seems obvious, even to a non-user like myself. The continued prohibition against marijuana, just like alcohol before it, does nothing more than support the violent criminal cartels, support the bloated law enforcement drug machine (and its criminal property confiscation 'laws,' a total conflict of interest), and criminalize citizens who are really doing nothing more than exploiting a PLANT. A natural, God-given PLANT. That is just bizarre.

      December 1, 2010 at 12:20 | Report abuse |
  18. mattb

    I'm sorry but marijuana stays in your system for 30 days after use, there is no way to know if they were "high" at the time of the accident. Anabolic steroids being listed here discredits this article immensely.

    November 30, 2010 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • allanhowls

      Matt: you have your facts wrong. Cannabis does NOT "stay in your system" for 30 days. After about two hours, you are no longer intoxicated. What can stay in your system are non-psychotropic cannabinoid metabolites...in other words, the leftovers of the pot you smoked, hanging out in your fat cells. That stuff literally CANNOT get you high in any way, shape, or form.

      It's like saying you're still drunk because you have a beer belly, storing all that beer.

      And if you don't think anabolic steroids have an effect on mood and risk-taking behaviors (such as impaired driving), you're grossly mistaken.

      November 30, 2010 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
  19. Tim

    More scare tactics used by the government to allow the billions of dollars to go to the failed war on drugs. We are sheep, being herded by a system of control called the DEA and FDA. I would rather put money into education and rehabilitation of drug users instead of placing them in prison.
    How many people are being killed by drunk drivers everyday, yet, big alcohol companies are still thriving and nothing is being done to curb their slaughter.
    What a crock of *(&^!

    November 30, 2010 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. nosailnomo

    This article missed the point. The increase of drugs in fatalities is reflected in the increase of drugs in our general population. Americans have been bred to consume. We are a nation of consumers. We are trained to take pills that makes us feel less, feel better, feel nothing. The FDA is little more than a rubber stamp, letting the public act as human trial subjects. Even when we discover that the drugs are killing us, "our studies do not indicate an unacceptable risk." For who? Who is protecting us?

    November 30, 2010 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Austin B

    I would be very suspect of ANYTHING this guy says.....its in his best interest to find any argument for his moral cause....
    This is a simple manipulation of statistics....

    November 30, 2010 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Name*Steve

    I call shenanigans! I read a similar article on a different website earlier today that site this same statistic and it said the rate was 1 in 5 not 3. The media is full of BS. I'm so sick of propaganda being promoted as news. The fact is, the only way to eliminate drugs from society is to eliminate sickness. You can't eliminate sickness if the DEA keeps blocking research on drugs. Stop perpetuating lies and fear.

    November 30, 2010 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Austin B

    and also, what this article dosent really seem to take into account are.....more cars on the road than in the past, more congestion, more late night drivers.....more people taking more medications...also in *combination* than before.....but statistics can be made to say anything.....and much of what comes out of the mouth of the DEA is garbage....manipulated garbage for their morality campaigns....

    November 30, 2010 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Tommas

    Shenanigans!!!!!! As with every government stat on drugs they decide to leave out the point that they used cannabis metabolites.. IE the person could have been straight as an arrow but smoked cannabis a month ago (with >10% of the US population). This is such propaganda PLEASE people see through this

    November 30, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. the truth

    I heard 50% of car crashes r caused by women.

    November 30, 2010 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bradley

      Hahaha!! That's hilarious!

      November 30, 2010 at 16:58 | Report abuse |
  26. Imjesayin

    What this article tells me is that people need to stop hitting and killing drivers with drugs in their systems!

    November 30, 2010 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. bob

    nosailnomo...you hit the nail on the head! as more and more people are prescribed drugs for everything from anxiety to a sore throat of course they are going to reach these findings. If we'd stop taking all the pills prescribed for daily life then we wouldn't have these issues.

    November 30, 2010 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Bradley

    Benadryl makes you drive like an old person at a farmer's market!

    November 30, 2010 at 16:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Free the Leaf

    one of those drugs is not like the other. don't lump marijuana with PCP. seriously


    November 30, 2010 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Gonzo Leboutier

    David Martin – CNN Medical Senior Producer – author of this article, should be embarrassed for publishing this drivel on CNN.com.
    Most of the babel in the comments section of these articles digress into name calling and foolishness, but most posters here have legitimate points.
    It really must be a slow medical news day to publish such a baseless article, David. I sincerely hope you don't practice actual medicine.

    November 30, 2010 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. TIDUS


    December 1, 2010 at 03:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Becca

    Why are twelve year olds driving.....?

    December 1, 2010 at 07:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. DatDude

    i think its funny they found people 12 and older were reported driving under the influence...since when can a 12 yr old drive?

    December 1, 2010 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. BigBoi69


    December 1, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. BigBoi69

    Very funny how the author of this thinks 12 year old kids are driving. Where did you take your drivers test? Toys R Us? Thats one of the only places kids can even get the feeling of legally driving. I spacecruise and drive under the influence of marijuana a good bit. You just have to know how to drive and not be a sketchball. And for those of you who believe k2 kills people, your wrong. I've smoked it for 3months straight and I'm fine. Why do you think on the k2 package it says 'Smoking Blend".

    December 1, 2010 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. iowatim

    Never listen to a study done by the ONDCP. They are required by federal law to reject any positive information on drugs....thus automatically eliminating any possibility of objectivity. Read the book "Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics" for an objective study of the claims made by the ONDCP. The book is not written by some crazy talk show host, but by two professors from Appilacian State.

    December 4, 2010 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. reallynow

    Many drugs, prescription or not, stay in the body long after the euphoric effects have worn off (especially with chronic use). So, if someone tests positive for narcotics, they might not have ingested them that day, but may have been on them for long-term use. Again, I see they are trying to blame marijuana for causing 'horrific' car accidents. Who the hell wants to go out after they are high?! Be careful what you take and when you take it, you might get tested the next time you get pulled over. This article is hollow and provides no real or useful data.

    December 5, 2010 at 08:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.