Combining Impairing Substances Is a Growing Problem Nationwide

DALLAS – One in 20 U.S. adults admits to driving within two hours of consuming prescription medications that cause impairment, according to a new survey commissioned by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).  About one in five adults have, or know someone who has, driven while impaired by prescription opioids, depressants, or stimulants – or those mixed with other substances like alcohol or marijuana.

The nationwide survey by IPSOS, a global leader in market research, comes amid reports of increased drug use among drivers seriously or fatally injured in car crashes in 2020. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 64% of seriously and fatally injured drivers tested at five major trauma centers during the second quarter of 2020 had at least one impairing substance in their system, including opioids, marijuana, alcohol, stimulants, and anti-depressants. The presence of opioids among those drivers jumped from 6.8% in the fourth quarter of 2019 to over 14% in the second and third quarters of 2020, and over 9% in the first and fourth quarters.

“We are seeing a terrifying rise in the number of people consuming impairing prescription drugs and driving,” said MADD National President Alex Otte. “What’s even more dangerous is poly-drugged driving – combining a mixture of alcohol, marijuana and/or prescription drugs. We are deeply concerned about the combination of alcohol consumption and other drugs, such as prescription medications, increasing the risk of tragedies on our roads.”

According to NHTSA, 22% or more of the drivers tested at the five trauma centers throughout 2020 had multiple drugs in their system. Even so, according to the IPSOS survey, 85% of U.S. adults say they would be very uncomfortable riding in a vehicle with someone who had recently consumed a combination of drugs, including alcohol.

To keep our nation’s highways safe, MADD is embarking on a broad initiative to educate all U.S. drivers of the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, and prescription medications. Through program enhancements, public outreach and corporate alliances, MADD will continue its fight to eliminate drunk and drug-impaired driving.

MADD commissioned IPSOS in June 2021 to conduct a nationwide study of approximately 2,000 people ages 18 and older using the KnowledgePanel. The research was aimed at understanding the attitudes and behaviors related to driving under the influence of prescription medications, along with knowledge of the laws that surround it.

“MADD is concerned that there is a clear lack of understanding about the risks of prescription medications causing impairment while driving,” Otte said. “The survey highlights the confusion that exists and the alarming number of people who are consuming prescription medications and driving.”

Additional findings include:

  • About one in five have, or know someone who has, driven while impaired by prescription opioid (18%), depressant (18%), or stimulant medications (17%) – or those mixed with other substances like alcohol or marijuana (22%)
  • One in 20 admit to personally driving within two hours of consuming prescription medications that can cause impairment:
    • Opioids (6%), depressants (6%), and stimulants (4%), while slightly more (7%) admit to poly-drugged driving.
  • 48% of parents and grandparents say that conversations about poly-drugged driving should happen in middle school, yet just 25% report actually doing so in middle school and 38% have not had this conversation.
  • Three in four US adults agree that they don’t hear much about driving under the influence of prescription medication in the news today (73%) and that additional research on the subject is needed (75%).
  • Only 50% view driving impaired from Opioid Rx med use as a serious crime, while 17% say it is only a minor traffic offense, 25% are unsure and 7% think it’s legal.

“Road safety is more than just vehicle features and technology. It’s also about initiatives to support safe driving behaviors,” said John Capp, GM’s director of Global Safety Technology, Strategy and Regulations. “Through Periscope, GM’s new safety brand, GM works with nonprofit organizations to help educate and promote the safety of drivers, passengers, children, cyclists and pedestrians. GM and Periscope are proud to support this research by MADD that can help identify the issue and inform drivers on the dangers of impaired driving.”

“MADD thanks General Motors for their support in funding this important project.  We are so grateful for their dedication to our shared mission to stop these tragedies that destroy families and devastate our communities,” Otte said.

To review the survey results, visit https://www.madd.org/the-solution/drugged-driving-prevention/

This survey was conducted June 4th – 6th, 2021, during the widespread impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in the US. It is viewed as a baseline of perceptions and attitudes.

About Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Founded in 1980 by a mother whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Mothers Against Drunk Driving® (MADD) is the nation’s largest nonprofit working to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking. MADD has helped save more than 400,000 lives, reduce drunk driving deaths by more than 50 percent and promote designating a non-drinking driver. MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® calls for law enforcement support, ignition interlocks for all offenders and advanced vehicle technology. MADD has provided supportive services to nearly one million drunk and drugged driving victims and survivors at no charge through local victim advocates and the 24-Hour Victim Help Line 1-877-MADD-HELP (877-623-3435). Visit www.madd.org or call 1-877-ASK-MADD (877-275-6233).

About General Motors

General Motors (NYSE:GM) is a global company focused on advancing an all-electric future that is inclusive and accessible to all. At the heart of this strategy is the Ultium battery platform, which will power everything from mass-market to high-performance vehicles. General Motors, its subsidiaries and its joint venture entities sell vehicles under the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, CadillacBaojun and Wuling brands. More information on the company and its subsidiaries, including OnStar, a global leader in vehicle safety and security services, can be found at https://www.gm.com.