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Report: Growing number of opioid- or cannabis-positive drivers

With legalized cannabis taking center stage over the past decade, it may come as no surprise that the number of drivers thought to have marijuana in their systems has risen substantially. At the same time, increased opioid activity has also driven up the number of people thought to drive with opioids in their system, according to a recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

The report found that, of drivers killed in traffic crashes who got tested for drugs, nearly 44 percent tested positive in 2016. That number is up from just 28 percent in 2006.

Of those drivers who tested positive for drugs, 38 percent were positive for some form of cannabis. Another 16 percent came up positive for opioids, and 4 percent for both.

Use of multiple drugs is also a growing issue. The same 2016 numbers indicate that, of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for drugs, 51 percent had two or more drugs in their systems. And, of those who tested positive for alcohol, 49 percent were also positive drugs.

Understanding the full scope of our nation's drugged driving problem is complicated for a number of reasons, according to the researchers:

  • Driver drug testing varies by state, and many drivers aren't tested even after they've been involved in, or even killed in, traffic crashes.
  • There are many drugs that could potentially be tested for, each with its own impairing effects, which may vary by dose, timing and driver.
  • A positive result doesn't necessarily imply impairment. This is known to be the case for cannabis and many prescription drugs.
  • There is no nationally accepted, scientifically supported method of testing for actual impairment as opposed to the mere presence of a drug.

At the same time, many drivers may have false beliefs about drugged driving. According to the GHSA, states need to focus on busting the myth that cannabis and opioids don't impair driving. They certainly can do so. Busting the myth, the group says, may require states to broaden their drunk and drugged driving campaigns to specifically address marijuana and opioids and to send the message that "impairment is impairment."

Meanwhile, it's important for drivers to be aware that, even if the drugs you take are legal, you can be convicted of drugged driving if an officer can demonstrate that you were impaired.

It's also important to note that, here in Texas, all forms of cannabis containing THC are illegal. (Medical CBD is legal for qualifying individuals.) If a drug test shows any detectable amount of THC or any illegal drug in your system, you can be found guilty of drugged driving even if you were not actually impaired.

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