Women Who Have Ever Abused Prescription Drugs Are Riskier Drivers
Risky Driving Basics
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety maintains a list of risky driving behaviors that includes driving faster than the posted speed limit, failing to wear a seatbelt, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving while distracted (a category which includes driving while using a cell phone) and driving while sleepy. Drivers can significantly boost their overall level of risk by engaging in two or more of these behaviors at the same time. This is especially important since a driver who has one risk-increasing habit also likely has other risk-increasing habits. According to the results of a large-scale study published in 2012 by LexisNexis and the RGA Reinsurance Company, people who engage in risky driving practices also commonly die at a younger age than their safe-driving counterparts.
Prescription Drug Abuse
Prescription drug abuse is a common term for the unsanctioned, recreational use of medications normally prescribed to treat a specific mental or physical condition. Common examples of the medications targeted for this type of abuse include pain-relieving opioid narcotics, sedatives, tranquilizers and stimulants such as amphetamine, dextroamphetamine or methylphenidate. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration uses a project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to track trends in prescription medication abuse among Americans 12 or older. The latest available figures from this survey indicate that in 2012, about 2.4 million preteens, teenagers and adults initiated the abuse of a prescription substance. The average age of these new abusers was 22.9. The most common targets of prescription medication abuse were OxyContin and other opioid painkillers like Vicodin. In decreasing order, the next three most popular targets were tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives.
Impact on Risky Driving
In the study published in Substance Abuse, the University of Texas researchers assessed the potential connection between prescription drug abuse and the chances of participating in risky driving. In particular, the researchers focused their efforts on teenage girls and women between the ages of 16 and 24. Between 2008 and 2010, they asked 2,952 members of this age and gender group to detail their history of involvement in the abuse of opioid painkillers, sedatives, stimulants or tranquilizers. The researchers also asked all participants to detail their level of involvement in risky driving in the 30-day period before the study began.
The researchers found that slightly less than a third of the participants (30.1 percent) had abused at least one type of prescription medication over the course of their lifetimes. Fifteen percent of the participants had abused a prescription medication within the year prior to the start of the study and 6.7 percent had abused a prescription medication in the month prior to the start of the study. After comparing the rates of medication abuse to the rates of involvement in risky driving, the researchers concluded that any older teenage girl or young woman who has ever abused a prescription medication has a greater chance of driving in risky ways than an older teenage girl or young woman who has never abused a prescription medication. The highest level of risk occurs among girls and women in the target age range who have abused a prescription medication in the previous 30 days; the lowest level occurs among girls and women who have not abused a prescription medication for a year or longer.
Even when prescription medication abuse hasn’t occurred in the last year, older teenagers and young women with a history of such abuse engage in risky driving behaviors about 85 percent more often than their counterparts who have never abused a prescription medication. The authors of the study published in Substance Abuse believe that their findings may help public health officials improve the quality and benefits of the campaigns used to deter both medication abuse and risky or reckless driving.