Tiger Woods’ arrest Monday night on drugged driving charges is just the latest high-profile case and one of many thousands of everyday case in which misuse and abuse of prescription drugs are at least partly to blame for traffic accidents and infractions. Woods was found asleep in his idling car near his Jupiter Island, Fla., home. Although he had no alcohol in his system, his speech was slurred and he was unable to complete a roadside sobriety test.
Woods, who had back surgery recently, issued a statement saying: “I take full responsibility for my actions. I want the public to know that alcohol was not involved. What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.”
While embarrassing for Woods, the drugged driving problem is increasingly common and is blamed for many serious and even fatal accidents. In fact, federal safety regulators say that fatalities involving drugged drivers have doubled over the last decade. In 2015, 21% of the 31,166 fatal car accidents in the U.S. involved a driver who tested positive for drugs, up from 12% of the 32,166 fatal crashes the previous year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
“Use of marijuana and prescription drugs is increasingly prominent among drivers on America’s roads, which raises a new safety challenge,” NHTSA said. “While it’s illegal across the United States to drive while drunk the laws involving drugged driving vary across the states.”
The spike in highway fatalities mirrors the rate of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. which, in 2015, was more than 2.5 times the rate in 1999, according to recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, due to a fall in the price of heroin and accessibility to prescription drugs. The rate of drug overdose deaths increased to 16.3 per 100,000 in 2015 from 6.1 per 100,000 people in 1999, an average rise of 5.5% a year. The biggest spike in fatal drug overdoses took place among Generation X and baby boomers, the CDC concluded.
The rising use, misuse and abuse of opioids puts pharmacists in a delicate position. “There are millions of people at risk and thousands of people dying,” said Jeffrey Bratberg, PharmD, BCPS, of the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy. “They’re dying everywhere, and anyone who’s concerned about the safety of opioids should consider naloxone as the effective antidote to protect the patient.”
Bratberg spoke at a recent conference of pharmacists. He actively encourages pharmacists and other health professionals to advocate for more supervised safe consumption sites, educate patients on safe use of opioids and overdose awareness, provide nonprescription syringes, and dispense naloxone.
Last month, at the Pain Institute during the APhA Annual Meeting and Exposition, Bratberg hosted education sessions and put the opioid crisis into perspective for attendees. “There are millions of people at risk and thousands of people dying,” Bratberg said. “They’re dying everywhere, and anyone who’s concerned about the safety of opioids should consider naloxone as the effective antidote to protect the patient.”
Pharmacy-based naloxone access programs are spreading throughout the country as a way to treat opioid overdose. Naloxone is often administered as a nasal spray but can also be injected via a syringe or an auto-injector. “It has no potential for abuse, and does not work on other drugs,” Bratberg noted.
“Pharmacists have to take the lead in educating the public about naloxone as a lifesaving drug,” Bratberg said. “Starting the conversation and perfecting the naloxone offer is critical to expanding access for patients and reversing overdoses on the spot.”