Prescription opioids, alcohol and fatal motor vehicle crashes: a population-based case-control study

Li, Guohua; Chihuri, Stanford

The prevalence of prescription opioid use among drivers has increased markedly in the past two decades. The purpose of this study is to assess the associations of prescription opioid use and alcohol use with the risk of fatal crash involvement in US drivers.

We performed a population-based case-control study using toxicological testing data from two national data systems. Cases (n = 3606) were drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes selected from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and controls (n = 15,600) were drivers participating in the 2007 and 2013 National Roadside Surveys of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers. Multivariable logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) of fatal crash involvement associated with prescription opioid use with and without the presence of alcohol.

Overall, cases were significantly more likely than controls to test positive for prescription opioids (5.0% vs. 3.7%, p < 0.001), alcohol (56.2% vs. 7.1%, p < 0.0001), and both substances (2.2% vs. 0.2%, p < 0.001). Relative to drivers testing negative for prescription opioids and alcohol, the adjusted ORs of fatal crash involvement were 1.72 (95% CI: 1.37, 2.17) for those testing positive for prescription opioids and negative for alcohol, 17.92 (95% CI: 16.19, 19.84) for those testing positive for alcohol and negative for prescription opioids, and 21.89 (95% CI: 14.38, 33.32) for those testing positive for both substances. The interaction effect on fatal crash risk of prescription opioid use and alcohol use was not statistically significant on either additive or multiplicative scale.

Prescription opioid use is associated with a significantly increased risk of fatal crash involvement independently of alcohol use. Concurrent use of prescription opioids and alcohol is associated with a 21-fold increased risk of fatal crash involvement.


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Injury Epidemiology

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Academic Units
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April 22, 2019


Alcohol, Driving safety, Interaction, Motor vehicle crashes, Opioid epidemic, Prescription opioids, Polydrug