Opioid-Involved Fatal Car Crashes On The Rise In Utah, Nationally

Feb 21, 2019, 7:10 PM | Updated: Feb 24, 2019, 10:50 am


TAYLORSVILLE, Utah – The opioid epidemic has been harming our community in a growing number of ways. The powerful painkillers are detected more often in drivers today who cause fatal crashes, than a decade ago.

That’s according to a new national study, and utah statistics.

That trend reflects how pervasive the opioid epidemic has become – and it’s alarming to safety advocates and law enforcement.

On average, 45 people die each year in Utah in a crash caused by a driver who tested positive for drugs.

“We do see it a lot,” said Sergeant Nick Street with the Utah Highway Patrol.

When he patrolled I-15 on the Wasatch Front, he encountered drivers impaired by opioids more often than he expected.

“Not just prescription opioids, but illegally-obtained prescription opioids, heroin and those things – it was quite common to run into that,” he said.

What he saw on the roads is reflected in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In that study researchers from Columbia University found that in fatal, two-car crashes drivers who caused the crash were nearly twice as likely as those who were not at fault to test positive for opioids.

“That’s disturbing,” said Sgt. Street. “That’s an alarming trend.”

Here in Utah, a dozen years ago, the drivers in fatal crashes tested positive for drugs in 6.5% of the crashes. By 2016, it was nearly a third of the crashes: 30%. The deaths resulting from those crashes rose from 20 to 80.

“A definite rise, yes, from when I first started working the road a decade ago to what we have today,” said the sergeant. “It seems like we encounter it a lot more.”

Ten years ago, Sergeant Street saw more alcohol-related DUIs.

Those fatal crashes have remained relatively steady in Utah, while the drug-related fatal crashes have surged.

A dozen years ago in Utah, opioids showed up in the blood of drivers in five fatal crashes. Ten years later, opioids were detected in the blood of drivers in 28 fatal crashes – a dramatic rise.

“The numbers are staggering from where it was 10 years ago to where it is today,” said John Gleason, a Utah Department of Transportation spokesman and safety advocate for Zero Fatalities.

Most people take opioids for acute pain, prescribed by their doctor. Others abuse the drugs. The effects on the road can be the same.

“You hear about the opioid epidemic every day the news, and it’s really being reflected on our roads,” said Gleason. “If you’re on these prescription painkillers and you get behind the wheel the results can be the same as if you were using heroin, or any other illicit drugs.”

“We’ve had to adapt our training to identify different substances,” said Sgt. Street.

A person on opioids they pull over in a traffic stop looks different than what they see with marijuana and alcohol. There is no breathalyzer for prescription drugs. So, troopers are getting advanced roadside impairment detection in order to combat those encounters.

“It’s very disconcerting,” said the sergeant. “It’s not enough that we’re all out there making sure we’re safe around other motorists. But, now we have this added issue where almost one-third of our fatal crashes are coming by individuals whose blood results come back for some type of substance.”

The Utah Highway Patrol continues to study the data, he said, and adjust their enforcement efforts accordingly.

“It’s one more thing the public has to look out for, and be aware of that could potentially be a public safety issue for them on the roadway.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

The Utah Senate on March 1, 2024....

Lindsay Aerts

Final day of 2024 legislative session saw billions in funding and a move to ban pride flags

The final day of Utah’s 2024 legislature saw over 100 bills passed, involving funding for downtown, social media restrictions for minors, and a $29.4 billion budget.

5 hours ago

Cache County Clerk David Benson addresses a crowd regarding election law violations. (Mike Anderson...

Mike Anderson

Cache County Clerk addresses office election law violations

Cache County Clerk David Benson answered questions from the media and local voters about findings of numerous election law violations in his office.

6 hours ago

Pair of handcuffs on a black bacthroom...

Alexander Campbell

Washington County man calls police on self, gets arrested for stolen firearms

A teenager is off the streets after calling in to St. George Police and giving them his approximate location Friday, leading to a guns-drawn arrest.

6 hours ago

Two victims in a Hit-and-run in Sugarhouse speak to KSL News on Friday. (Emma Benson, KSL News)...

Emma Benson

Sugarhouse hit and run victims speak out

Two Sugarhouse women are speaking out after they were involved in a hit-and-run.

8 hours ago

Toyota passenger car that was involved in a fatal crash on Friday. (Utah Highway Patrol)...

Alexander Campbell

South Jordan crash results in one fatality, closes I-15 on ramp

Interstate 15 is closed at 11400 South while Utah Highway Patrol investigates a fatal crash on Friday.

9 hours ago

SLCPD officers pulling the the man off the parking garage ledge. (The Salt Lake City Police Departm...

Alex Cabrero

Body cam video shows police officers save man’s life during mental health crisis

Many people who live or work in downtown Salt Lake City often have very normal days. 

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Opioid-Involved Fatal Car Crashes On The Rise In Utah, Nationally