Friday, December 9, 2011

Prescription Drugs Can Cause Accidents by George Murphy

The increased use and subsequent abuse of prescription drugs have police across the United Sates struggling to properly charge offenders. The fact that many of offenders are taking drugs legally prescribed to them makes it very difficult to determine if the drug levels found in subjects are within the prescribed limits. A recent expose by The New York Times probes into the many different sides of this difficult struggle. For our purposes, we will stick to the areas of the piece that have an effect on construction accidents and construction injuries.

The debate on how to enforce this issue really centers on how to define inappropriate levels of legally prescribed drugs. Construction workers are usually aware of policies banning certain medications at the workplace, despite their general legality. But how can this extend out to the general populace with regard to the act of driving? Mark Neil, senior lawyer at the National Traffic Law Center, frames the debate this way, "How do we balance between people who legitimately need their prescriptions and protecting the public? It becomes a very delicate balance."

Laws banning the use of illegal drugs are more common at the workplace, and some states have even passed laws that make it illegal to drive with the presence of an illegal substance in your body, at any level of detection. Chuck Hayes, of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, spoke with the New York Times on how the change in drug user behavior from illegal drugs to prescription drugs makes charging offenders more difficult. "In the past it was cocaine, it was PCP, " Hayes stated. "Now we're into this prescription drug era that is giving us a whole new challenge."

Many people believe that with the right messaging, the notion that so-called "drugged driving", even legal drugs, is wrong. Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama's top drug policy advisor, has set the goal of reducing drugged-driving accidents by ten percent over the next five years. Kerlikowske explains that, "We have a pretty clear message in this country that you don't drink and drive. We need very much to have a similar message when it comes to drugs."

Kerlikowske goes on to explain the tone and content of his message on drugged driving. "You don't want to scare people," he said, "but you certainly want to make them aware of the dangerousness. You can be as deadly behind the wheel with prescription drugs as you can with over-the-limit alcohol, and you are responsible for your own actions."

In a statement that really ties this issue into New York construction accidents, Lt. Col. Thomas C. Hejl, the assistant sheriff in Calvert County, Md, posses this question, "Would you go home and start a chain saw and cut down a tree?" No, you certainly would not, a concept the construction industry has embraced for decades. Lt. Col. Heil's answers his own question with another a question, summing up the challenges ahead, "Why should you get behind the wheel of a vehicle when the same medication has the same side effects?" This question will prove to be tougher for people to answer.